18-10 (8-7 SEC)
20-8 (11-4 SEC)
Well, Thursday settled the regular season conference championship. Thanks to Tennessee's narrow overtime loss to Arkansas, Kentucky surged one game clear with two games that matter: this game, and Kentucky on the road at 4-11 Mississippi State. Not to put too fine a point on it, but not a whole lot rides on this game; the odds of Kentucky losing at Starkville are slim, as we saw in the desultory performance Tennessee put in when they went there. That game tips at 1:30, so Tennessee will know before (or right at) tip if there's anything to play for. (Hint: there won't be.)
That's probably for the best, as it allows the Lady Vols two things: the ability to play this game relaxed (since there's next to nothing riding on it), and focusing on the seniors. This senior class is one of the more interesting ones in recent Lady Vol history - the reasons why are worthy of further discussion than just here - and for all their struggles and flaws (and this team is flawed, but so are most), there are some unique talents that deserve accolades. They'll get them today.
Florida in general has a faint whiff of disappointment to their season; their best win is likely a road win at Nikki Caldwell's LSU squad (got to do better than that when you get to Knoxville, Nikki, but I understand), but that's paired with some bizarre losses (73-78 at Pacific, and a 44-49 home loss to South Carolina I'm glad I didn't watch), They're just below the middle of the SEC pack, but they won't fall below 8th in-conference; the 9th-12th squads are just ...well, bad.
The Lady Vol lineup looks a little bit different than most Lady Vol lineups, but it's Senior Night. Bass gets her second(!) start of the season, and Baugh gets back in the starting five, but it doesn't matter, at least not in the strictest sense of the word. This lineup is a little weird, but oddly might benefit Stricklen the most, since she basically has to act as shooting guard given the interior towers of power. I don't think this lineup wall be frequent, but given some of the substitution patterns in other games, that's anyone's guess.
This lineup gives Tennessee an absurd height advantage against Florida's likely starting five (just look at the additional length and height differences between the guards and whoever gets to deal with Jordan Jones and Jaterra Bonds). Jones is one of the better and more prolific three-point shooters the Lady Vols have seen, putting up over 6(!) a game at nearly a 35% clip, which means rotation plays are likely.
On the other hand, the matchup I'm looking forward to is Jennifer George against Glory Johnson. It's been a while since they faced each other, but the last time they did, well, this happened: 25 points, 11 boards (and yes, 7 turnovers, but this team is much better at ball-handling than last year's team, most of the time at least), and George fouling out given only 13 minutes of play. (Oh, and Azania Stewart also fouled out in that game, but with 18 minutes of play). I've been calling for Glory to go off at some point in ...well, basically the last few games I've had pregame, but this time I mean it. Honestly.
The hope is that having so little riding on this game - quite frankly, on both ends, as regardless of a win Florida's set up to face either Kentucky or Tennessee in the SEC Tournament on Friday at best - should help the Lady Vols to relax. Failing that, Glory Johnson should be well set up to go off, and if good 'Kinna shows up, the doors will get blown off the place.
Prediction: 87-71. I'd bet on one of those things happening (hint: I'm always betting on Glory), but not both. If both happen, we're all going to be back on the happy ledge again. I could be cheeky and predict BassWatch for the opening tip, but I'm not quite looking to score free points like that.