December 12, 2010
Today's game against the Lady Longhorns is the first in a two-stage trip through the state of Texas; after the trip to Austin, the Ladies will head to Baylor to take on the Lady Bears on Tuesday. The trip will likely be the most challenging road swing the Lady Vols face all year, and is surprisingly similar to a possible second or third weekend of NCAA tournament play. The two games present two completely different problems to the team, and with only one day of rest between the two, they won't have an opportunity to dial into each opponent individually; instead, the team must play to their best and simply see who has the better game on the night.
Details on the Baylor game will come later, but the primary challenge to playing Texas is one of mental focus. Texas loves to run the ball up and down the court; they live for the transition game, fast breaks, and a full-court press. They're 5-2 on the year so far, with the two losses coming to good Stanford and Michigan State squads on the road, so they are a team itching for a major win on their home floor. (A little revenge for last year's 78-58 blowout in Tompson-Boling wouldn't hurt Texas's feelings either.)
To beat Texas, the Lady Vols will have to keep focused; we know from Bruce's early years that a transition team lives off the mistakes of their opponents, and the Lady Vols have shown an ability to commit a lot of mistakes in a game. Tennessee has the all-around roster to beat Texas, but they'll have to avoid the easy fast-break scores by getting back on defense after every possession. They'll also have to avoid foul trouble so that they can rotate players throughout the game and keep their minds alert.
Now, the rosters:
Texas is a team that doesn't give up a tremendous amount of size to the Lady Vols, which is a little bit surprising for a team that likes to run up and down the floor as much as they do. The two-deep is similarly structured, so the look on the floor should remain consistent, even if the quality changes. (Aside: Texas is another school that apparently believes that everybody's a guard, as only 3 of their 11 players get non-guard designations. Nash is a forward/wing, despite the media lineup they announce.) Texas also has a lot of possessions, which helps explains the high number of rebounds and assists that the team has as a collective. They want to play fast, and the Lady Vols will likely oblige them, as Tennessee has played very well at up-tempo this year.
Texas doesn't shoot as many three-pointers as you'd expect, with only 27% of their shots coming from behind the arc, but they don't shy away from it either. Their shooting percentages are 45% FG, 38% 3PT, and 71% FT. They also get a lot of assists, averaging 16 per game, which is a fantastic pace. It's a team that passes well and moves well, but can be broken down by smart interior play, which is the key to their losses against both Stanford and Michigan State.
In the halfcourt, Texas can be forced into uncomfortable decisions. They were very turnover-prone against MSU when the Lady Spartans slowed down the game pace, and they couldn't find a way to stop Stanford's interior shooting. If Tennessee can get the inside-out game flowing through Cain and Baugh, Texas is going to have a very difficult time winning this game.
As always, be on the lookout for the first few minutes of the game. If Cain can avoid her early foul trouble woes, Summitt will be able to set lineups to Tennessee's advantage. If Cain is on the bench, Tennessee will have to rely on hot shooting from the perimeter - something that Simmons, Bjorklund, and Stricklen can do, but something that is best used as a supplement rather than survival.