17-2 (5-0 SEC)
10-8 (2-3 SEC)
We hear talk about trap games all the time; tonight's game is a most fitting example of a trap game. On paper, there is no advantage to be found for the Lady Gamecocks. Tennessee is bigger, faster, more explosive on offense, better at rebounding, and a nightmare on defense. If Tennessee is to lose this game, it will only happen because they buy into the tale of the tape...
Let's just get the obvious out of the way: the Gamecocks are short. Their tallest players are 6'-1" Charenee Stephens and Jewel May. (I don't list Stephens starting above, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her on the court just to even things up a little bit.) Half the roster is 5'-8" or shorter, while only Briana Bass fits that category on UT's roster. There is absolutely no reason that Tennessee should not own the interior throughout the game.
With such a short team, South Carolina has to either rely on the dribble drive or get hot from three. Unfortunately for them, they are 26% on the year from downtown and only 39% overall from the field. Averaging about 60 points a game, South Carolina just doesn't have a lot of scoring threat. They get a lot of assists, suggesting they do pass well as a team, but they'll be passing into the teeth of the longest and toughest defense in the SEC. It's hard to see how they'll be able to break Tennessee out of a 2-3 zone and open up some lanes.
South Carolina's only hope rests on defense. Their short stature won't allow them to hold up directly to Tennessee's interior presence, but they're good at stealing the ball, averaging about 9 steals a game. If Tennessee gets sloppy with their passing, the Gamecocks can cut down UT's scoring chances and get some fast break opportunities. If Tennessee passes well and gets the inside matchups they want, South Carolina can only look on.
The list goes on and on in Tennessee's favor: rebounds, blocks, fouls, offense, defense, size, speed, and depth all point toward the Lady Vols, with steals being only slightly in South Carolina's column. For South Carolina to win, Tennessee will have to play down to their level. This is where the trap element comes in.
The South Carolina game is a paper blowout waiting to happen, but is on the road and sandwiched between more important Vanderbilt and Auburn games. Last Saturday featured the lights and energy of an ESPN Game Day doubleheader, and the Sunday game can reduce the SEC race to a two-team contest if Tennessee beats Auburn. If Tennessee takes care of business against Georgia and Auburn, this South Carolina game will be meaningless toward the conference race.
A game like this will show whether the Lady Vols have developed the focus necessary to play their best regardless of situation. If they come out and enforce their will on the game, they will pass an important maturity test. If they get sloppy and let South Carolina hang around, they'll have some mental adjusting to do as the season wears on.
Prediction: UT 88 - SC 50