The Aggie Women travel to Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville tonight to work on a few problems that came up in the loss at Vandy. Let's review the situation:
- coming off a bad loss, and having lost 2 of the last 3
- facing the #8 team in the country
- which happens to be legendary in WBB
- at their place
- where they lead the country in attendance
- on Senior night
With A&M and UK both losing last Sunday, the Vols can clinch sole possession of the regular season crown and the top seed in the SEC tourney with a win over the Ags. The Ags need a win and help from UK on the weekend to claim a share of the title. It's not clear to me where we'd fit in a multiple team tiebreaker as far as seeding goes in the SEC tourney. The SEC schedule makers even managed to put this game on the week when Coach Blairs daughter gave birth to a baby boy, taking the coach out of town for a couple of days. How did they know? So... we've got the Lady Vols just where we want them, right?
Less than a month ago, the Vols looked vulnerable. They got shocked at Mizzou, and were decimated by injuries. With 13 seconds to go in Baton Rouge, the Vols were down 1 with Theresa Plaisance (currently tied for the SEC scoring lead and in the top 10 in FT%) at the line for the front end of a 1 and 1. Scoreboard watchers at A&M and UK were looking for the Vols to relinquish the SEC lead. But Plaisance missed and LSU managed to derp the game away in regulation. That started Tennessee on a 5 game win streak, with the most recent triumph a 60-54 win over Arkansas. They're looking a lot less vulnerable, as Meighan Simmons and Bashara Graves have raised their games in the absence of Isabelle Harrison. Harrison has recovered enough to get minutes vs the Razorbacks. We have to expect her to be further along the recovery curve tonight.
There are reasons, however, to hope that the Vols are still a bit more vulnerable than that 5 game streak suggests:
- As noted above, they really should have lost at LSU
- The best team they beat in that stretch was Vandy. Tiffany Clarke, who lit us up on Sunday, was so ill for the Tennessee game that she didn't play in the second half.
- Wins over Ole Miss, Auburn, and Arkansas aren't that impressive, and the Hogs played the Vols pretty close.
- The Vols have lost at home this year... to Stanford and Notre Dame, both likely #1 seeds.
Taking advantage of any of this will be hard even if A&M plays their best game. I think the UK game took a lot out of both teams and the Vandy loss was a combination of hangover, weird home court advantage, Clarke being in the zone, and not having two of our quicker subs, Scott and Jones, available. As of this writing, I haven't heard anything about whether Tori and JJ (or Cierra Windham, who has been in street clothes for several games) will be available.
But the pieces are all there to pull off a huge win in Knoxville. At the matchup level it wouldn't even be that big of an upset; the teams are close in talent and stats. Both teams have the inconsistency of being relatively young. Both are athletic. Playing in Knoxville will be a challenge, but the ladies are 1-1 against large and hostile crowds at Kentucky and South Carolina. As usual, I expect the keys to the game to be turnovers and how the Ags handle whatever Holly Warlick comes up with to neutralize Bone in the paint. The game plan against us has generally been: make someone else step up. The Ags have done that @Georgia and @LSU, and almost pulled it off vs UK at Reed. Defensively, I expect CWalk to start on Simmons and Bellock to guard Graves. Although those two have to be the central focus, there are plenty of other players on the Vols roster who can steal the spotlight. I'll be interested to see how much both teams play zone tonight, and how Coach uses Karla Gilbert.
The game is at 6PM CST on CSS, which should mean CST (119) on Suddenlink in B/CS.