14-11 (4-7 SEC)
12-2 (10-0 SEC)
(Note: since the game is on FSN, it will most likely be blacked out on ESPN3 for the East Tennessee area.)
Tonight's game is the first conference rematch for the Lady Vols. On January 13th, they ran the Gators out of the building 83-40 in a game that was never competitive. At the time, Florida had been flirting with top 25 rankings and looked to be well on their way to the NCAA tournament, but their inconsistencies have since caught up to them in conference play and the loss to Tennessee sparked a four-game losing streak that buried them in the conference standings. It was the kind of game that made you believe that Tennessee could return to the days of utter dominance. As Florida head coach Amanda Butler noted after the game:
We have to give Tennessee credit for setting the tone right from the beginning offensively. Defensively, the tempo, the rebounding battle--they just really took all of that away from us right from the tip. We never adjusted or responded with the toughness that I know that this team possesses. The younger players looked dazed.
Florida won't be blindsided by Tennessee this time around. While they are still considered a very long shot to pull of the upset, it should be a much better game by them, even in the Vol-friendly confines of TBA.
As with any game involving Tennessee, the first roster glance is a check at the collective height of the opposition. Florida does possess a 6'-4" center in Azania Stewart who averages about 23 minutes a night. With the exception of Brianna Bass, Florida will yield height at every position throughout the night, but it won't be as egregious as some Tennessee opponents have experienced (like South Carolina).
Florida shoots well, averaging just over 40% from the field on the year. Their ball-handling is suspect and their A/TO is 0.76 thanks to an average of 17 turnovers per game. With Tennessee's height advantage and the effectiveness of both Tennessee's zone and five (man-switch) defenses, Florida will absolutely have to solve their turnover problems if they want to have a shot at beating Tennessee tonight.
In her weekly press conference, Amanda Butler noted that Florida has a tendency to start slowly in the first half and have to work themselves out of a hole in the second. Tonight, they will not only have to settle into the game quickly, but they must also find out who has the hot shooting hand early. They do a decent job of distributing the opportunities, but don't tend to score a lot of points, averaging only 63 points per game in conference play.
On the other side of the ball, we get our first return look at Tennessee after one of the most generous halves of basketball they've played this year. Beating Kentucky almost despite themselves, Tennessee has little reason to feel comfortable with their 10-0 conference record and almost certain regular season crown. This team believes they're a team of destiny, but they absolutely have to get a handle on the ball; one bad performance in the NCAA tournament will send them home early.
With Bjorklund still limited in practice, Tennessee will likely start Glory Johnson again and let Meighan Simmons run the point from the opening tip-off. (I included Angie in the roster table, but only because I haven't heard any word on her one way or the other. There are also rumors of Taber Spani suffering a toe injury and possibly not playing.) Glory and Shekinna Stricklen have been the two most influential Lady Vols on the court over the last three weeks or so, and should be the two players to watch in the early minutes as Tennessee tries to establish tempo and dictate the terms of the game. Stricklen is well-positioned to become the team leader on the floor; her experience at multiple positions and her tremendous performance over the last few weeks give her the street cred and the context in which to become the focal point of the team. This team needs a floor general, and the Florida game gives her the perfect opportunity to provide exactly that.
Look also for Tennessee to continue working Vicki Baugh and Alyssia Brewer into the rotation. As the two gain experience, they are gaining comfort in the offense and defense, allowing them to play more minutes and give Kelley Cain more rest. If they are to be forces in the SEC and NCAA tournament, their time for full integration into the team's gameplan is now.
Prediction: Whatever Pendley says. (Ok, seriously: 82-63 Tennessee in a game that isn't in question but much better than the first round.
Bass watch: final media timeout of the first half. This substitution affords Kamiko and Meighan a chance to rest and conserve energy for the second half.