Tonight, the Lady Vols continue their quest for the regular season SEC title when they face potential challenger Ole Miss in Oxford. The Lady Rebels are currently tied with Florida for third in the conference with a record of 6-4; if they wish to win the regular season, they absolutely must beat Tennessee tonight, whose 9-1 conference mark currently has them alone at the top of the pile.
Partly drawing on the popularity of the Lady Vols, the Lady Rebels have chosen tonight as their Breast Cancer Awareness night with the theme, "Tickled Pink at the Pad". A lot of pink swag will be given away at the game and fundraising will be held to support breast cancer research and treatment.
Stats and analysis follow after the jump:
Charting the matchups is becoming a bit of a broken record with the Lady Vols. Once again, they have serious size advantages across the board, but are facing a team led by great guard play and heavy perimeter passing. Tennessee lost to Georgia and nearly lost to Vanderbilt and Florida because of their failure to effectively defend the guards, and having Alicia Manning start instead of Kamiko Williams is an admission that the Lady Vols need all the defensive help they can get. When Ole Miss has the ball, the Lady Vols will once again have to decide if they're invested enough to go all-out on defense and keep the guards covered, or if the easy looks will appear again.
Despite their lack of height, Ole Miss is a tenacious rebounding team. They rebound by committee, so the Lady Vols will have to show the discipline to box out everyone on the floor; the one unaccounted-for Lady Rebel will be the one who gets the defensive rebound or the putback opportunity. This is a pure 'hustle' matchup for Tennessee; with the interior presence of Kelley Cain, Alyssia Brewer, Shekinna Stricklen, and Glory Johnson, they should own the glass. All that's required is the will.
When Tennessee has the ball, they must get the ball in the paint, where Ole Miss literally has no answer for Kelley Cain. In fact, Ole Miss would prefer to start a fourth guard (5'-10" Elizabeth Robertson) in place of Katorra Lewis, but may have to make the substitution outlined above just to have a chance in the interior. Foul trouble could be the end of the Lady Rebels in this game; if Nikki Byrd or Katorra Lewis draw too many whistles, the game will turn ugly fast.
Of course, all this presupposes that the Lady Vols can pass the ball effectively - an assumption that rests on rather shaky ground right now. The talent is certainly there for Tennessee to win so long as they relax, play fundamental basketball, and minimize mistakes. But if the Lady Vols try to outsmart themselves and take unnecessary risks, the quick Lady Rebels have the ability to create turnovers and convert them into points.