23-2 (11-0 SEC)
17-7 (8-3 SEC)
And then there were two. Sure, Georgia (8-3 in-conference) could still make some noise, but this is realistically for the regular season title. With a Tennessee win, they go up four games on Vanderbilt, eliminating them from the title race. (Incidentally, a win tonight also mathematically eliminates Kentucky, too. It's two-for-one night in Nashville.)
With a loss? Well, that's where things get wonky. The conference probably isn't in much doubt - either regular season or tournament, to be frank - but the game against Georgia on the 21st takes on more meaning. If we learned anything from the men's game last night, it's that putting wins off until tomorrow when you can get them today means you're just as likely to end up in an awkward position as you are even on the board. Fortunately, we're not talking bubble with the Lady Vols, but we are talking losing a chance at a one seed in the NCAA tournament with any loss at this point.
That's why tonight matters: win, and the Lady Vols get to rest up a bit. Maybe Kelley Cain can even get healthy enough to be effective, and wouldn't that be nice? Lose, and ...well, the Lady Vols still get to rest up. But it's not smooth sailing, and Georgia is waiting, along with something that looks like a very tricky road date at Ole Miss.
No Bjorklund tonight, and Cain is out of the starting five. Vanderbilt is one of two teams to hold the Lady Vols below 70 at TBA this season, so this won't be a walkover. Rosters and breakdowns are below the jump. See y'all at 6.
Tuomi drives the Lady 'Dores, and we won't see more balanced scoring among the top three options on a team this season. With that being said: Jence Rhoads is the much bigger deal. Those 5.1 APG are more than Simmons and Kamiko Williams combined. Oddly, the 'Dores still turn the ball over plenty, but the gaudy assist numbers make up for that somewhat. This is an inside/outside/driving scoring team, with Lister (39% 3-PT) serving as the outside, Tuomi (61% from the floor, 4 FTA / game) in the interior, and Rhoads as the driver / distributor. Take one leg down and the pyramid collapses.
In short, defense matters. Height, length, and intensity. Y'all can do the math as well as I can, but just in case: Tennessee will roll three(!) starters taller than the tallest Vanderbilt starter, and Simmons will likely get thrown on Rhoads to harass her into making mistakes. There's no excuse for not dominating the boards tonight with that height advantage, and the second chances should add up. Intensity has been the question mark with this team; they can show up for 10-15 minutes, but a full forty is needed here. Reprising the eleventy billion-to-two run against Mississippi State off said intensity would be nice, but I don't think that's a realistic expectation. I'd be happy with just one billion-to-two.
Offensively, I know what I'd like to see (Stricklen-Glory, with Simmons and Spani gunning on open looks and Baugh getting involved every once in a while), but I suspect Simmons will be more involved. Post play is going to be interesting; Johnson and Baugh both have an array of post moves (Johnson at the high post, Baugh at the low post), and if both get rolling early it'll add up to 'Dore frustration and possible foul trouble. If Stricklen goes off - which, as we've seen against Arkansas, Kentucky, and Florida, can happen pretty much at will - none of this matters, of course. (Then again, if there are 17 turnovers in the first half again, none of this matters for an entirely different reason, and it may have to do with blood in the locker room at halftime.)
Bottom line: physical gifts and mismatches add up to a mental edge. Vanderbilt keeps it very close for 30 minutes, but Stricklen takes over for three minutes and that's that. (See, elite players step up in crunch time. You'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise watching the men play.) 71-63, Ladies. The Briana Bass Marker of Victory probably doesn't come into play here, but for completeness' sake around 2:30 of the first half sounds good.