Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE
The Lady Vols host Rice for the first regular season home game of the year.
Radio: UTSports Audio
Live Stats: GameTracker
For those who are currently in the Knoxville area, tonight is the first opportunity to get a real-game look at the Lady Vols under head coach Holly Warlick in the friendly confines of Thompson-Boling Arena. After an opening weekend that can charitably be described as "inconsistent", Tennessee looks to build off the dominating win over Georgia Tech and give Warlick her first official victory at home.
But first, let's look at Rice. The Owls are led by 6'-2" junior forward Jessica Kuster, who was the preseason all C-USA player of the year. Kuster averaged a double-double last year to mark a very successful sophomore campaign. Shooting almost 45% from the floor and about 71% from the free throw line, she has been a reliable scorer for the Owls in two full seasons of play. As #30 goes, so goes Rice. After Kuster, the number two threat is 6'-0" sophomore forward Christal Porter, who was a member of the all-freshman C-USA team last year. Between the two, the Owls have the potential for a dynamic front court that can place pressure in the paint and should provide a good test for Harrison, Burdick, and Graves.
Rice also has a Knoxville native: three-letter senior guard Jessica Goswitz. Jessica is a Webb High graduate and may play the bulk of the minutes at point guard. She was a co-captain last year and has the most experience of any Rice player on the team. With an experienced point guard plus a couple quality complimentary players in the front, Rice can present a great challenge for Tennessee.
On the good side of the court, the Lady Vols have some starts of their own. Bashaara Graves is the early name to mention, as the freshmen averaged a double-double over the opening weekend and is already impressing everybody with her physical play and on-court awareness, with most articles across the women's basketball spectrum throwing in a "Beast" reference at some point. She plays a little different than Glory Johnson, but the effect is pretty similar. She will wear out opponents and will not be intimated.
After Bashaara, Andraya Carter has proved to be an excellent point guard out of the block. Already considered the best on-ball defender, she is earning quality minutes at point guard for her contributions on defense. So far in exhibition and the early games, she has not shown any significant lapses in judgment or an early-career issues. Between her and Ariel Massengale, Tennessee has their first true one-two punch at point guard in a long, long time. This frees up Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams to play at shooting guard, which is a far better position for both Ladies.
Other quick hits to watch:
- Cierra Burdick is far more athletic and coordinated than last year. Somebody fixed her running form and it's paying dividends.
- Harrison is a bold player who keyed the impressive first half against Georgia Tech. She hit a string of fouls to place herself on the bench in the second half, so foul management will be something to watch with her.
- Simmons and Spani are the two best three-point shooters on the team, but both have had issues (streakiness and injuries, respectively). Watch to see if they can create opportunities for good looks at the basket and then capitalize on them.
- Jasmine Phillips is finally healthy and may contribute tonight. If so, the Lady Vols will finally be playing with a full deck.