Fresh off their first road win of the season against DePaul, the Lady Vols look to win both games of a tournament-style trip to Big East country. In what could suffice as a second NCAA tournament weekend, they play their second game with only a day rest in between, and play against a more highly regarded opponent. Rutgers and Tennessee are familiar foes, with Pat Summitt and C Vivian Stringer posting several memorable games over the last decade, including a huge come-from-behind win and a controversial clock stoppage. There is every reason to believe that this game can live up to the series, and ESPN is bringing their main event coverage just in case.
Rutgers is a remarkably balanced team on offense, with 6th man Betnijah Laney contributing 8 points per game off the bench. While Sykes and Rushdan are the principal three-point threats, Rutgers only attempts one trey out of every 5.5 total shots, one of the lower 3PA rates around. As a comparison, Tennessee has shot more threes (126 to 99) despite having played 7 games to Rutgers's 10, and Tennessee's 3PA rate is about one trey for every 3.5 shots.
Rutgers will attempt to get the ball inside, but has suffered in the turnover department as a result, posting a 0.8 A/TO to date. (Tennessee is slightly better at 0.9 A/TO.) In their lone loss to Miami in overtime, Rutgers gave up 27 turnovers despite shooting a respectable 44% from the floor. One the other end, Rutgers averages about 10 steals per game - slightly higher than Tennessee's 9 SPG mark but not a significant edge. But with Meighan Simmons filling in for the injured Ariel Massengale and with Shekinna Stricklen presumably taking over point guard duties, ball control will be an issue to watch this game.
Tennessee should win if any two of the three have hot shooting nights: Taber Spani, Meighan Simmons, and Shekinna Stricklen. With the improved consistency of scoring from the interior and bench players, any kind of a reliable three point threat should be enough to stretch Rutgers's defense out and keep the lanes open. On the defensive end, Tennessee will likely try to find a zone that suits well against Rutgers to avoid the interior passing, with some full court pressure thrown in to shorten the shotclock and test the Knights' ball handling. With a significant size advantage in this contest, Tennessee may rotate Taber or Shekinna for interior help so that Glory Johnson can guard the point in a 2-3 zone. By shutting down the passing lanes and forcing a downtown game from Rutgers, Tennessee might be able to force them into quick shots or turnovers.
Tennessee's best advantage may be Vicki Baugh, if she is good to go. She stands a full 2 or more inches over every Knight except freshman Christa Evans, who averages 6 minutes per game. With Baugh's athleticism and height, Rutgers will be very hard pressed to keep her off the boards and out of scoring position. Doubling down on Baugh means leaving lanes open for Glory and Shekinna, however, which presents Rutgers with a dilemma. This gets us back to the guards: good shooting and smart ball control, and this could be a long night for the Knights.
Prediction: 84-72 Tennessee
BassWatch™: 6 minutes left in the second half