#18 (USA Today)
#4 (USA Today)
That's the first step for the Ladies. The SEC regular season crown isn't completely in danger - although with two losses, things could get interesting, especially if one of those two comes tonight - but it's not about the regular season crown and we know that. Tonight is a wake-up call; Kentucky is the best team the Lady Vols have faced since Stanford, and it's a road game - 9 PM tip to boot. If we wanted a challenge, tonight we're going to get it. Oh, and Angie Bjorklund won't play tonight, although she did travel with the team. No pressure, Simmons.
Rosters and breakdowns after the jump. Simultaneous contest discourse will occur here as well. (Or, y'know, this is the game thread too.)
If you look over that and go "hey, Kentucky isn't more than a couple of players", you wouldn't be far off. Then again, Victoria Dunlap is all-everything and A'dia Mathies is pretty good in her own right. Both do a fantastic job of leading the Lady Wildcats and both do an incredible job of getting to the line, averaging nearly 12 FTs a game between them. Of course, they also are among the team leaders in fouls committed per game. By the stats, I don't get much of the rest of their lineup, although the third-biggest threat isn't even in the lineup. Keyla Snowden is a vicious three-point gunner (she's seen 10 starts on the season), but hasn't started in UK's last seven. When I say vicious, I mean putting up 5.7 threes per game at a 47.1% clip. I'd call her a danger off the bench, but that doesn't do her justice. The Lady Vols simply can't afford to lose her on defense.
For Tennessee, we've seen this script before. Sans Bjorklund, Simmons will run the point. Glory Johnson gets the force of nature 6th-man spot (and yes, because I'm writing this instead of Hooper, we're going to come back to her), and look for most offense to be run through Stricklen, Simmons, and Spani early. Cain is going to have her hands full with Dunlap, so she may only be involved with offensive boards and putbacks early until the game settles. The bench looks like the aforementioned Glory, Vicki Baugh, Alyssia Brewer, and Alicia Manning will get the lion's share of the time.
How do the Lady Vols attack this game? I'm loath to say the game revolves around getting Mathies or Dunlap in foul trouble (but hey, that won't hurt), but regardless, one of those two needs to be shut down. Dunlap might be easier to handle given the personnel the Ladies will have (those 15 fouls from Baugh, Brewer, and Cain will come in handy if nothing else), but one of them needs to be handled. Other than that, Stricklen needs to have what's becoming a customary huge game, and the other 6'2" forward with absurd athleticism and a nose for the ball needs to be deployed properly. The game doesn't come down to how well Glory Johnson performs, but it'll be a large part of the game.
What about three-point shooting? I've managed to go this entire preview without mentioning Simmons except in passing, and the reason at this point should be obvious: I don't trust her game right now. I don't know if she totally does either, but I don't think that expecting a huge game from Simmons is a wise move. That means it falls to Kamiko Williams and Spani (and, after last week apparently, Stricklen can stroke it too) to be an outside threat to stretch the defense. If Simmons can snap out of it, then I'm not nearly as concerned, but don't count on it.
It's going to be close; still, Tennessee runs much deeper than Kentucky, and that'll be the difference. Tennessee to the tune of 75-67, but it's a one or two-possession game most of the time. Briana Bass, sadly, gets a DNP-CD. This game is a huge opportunity; let's see if Tennessee can cross the threshold and become a legitimate title contender.
16-0. Ball tips at 9.