When basketball goes to square courts, these guys will be ready. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
17-6 (8-2 SEC)
18-5 (6-4 SEC)
Let the rehabilitation roadshow begin.
The Lady Vols are coming off a nice win against Auburn, but this is the game that can put the South Carolina debacle in the past. Last time against Vanderbilt, Christina Foggie lit up the scoreboard for 27 points (a career high, but you already knew that) and Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen came up with a hurt shoulder and knee, respectively. Tennessee won comfortably, 87-64, but the injuries may have played a part in the Lady Vols' collapse against Notre Dame.
Tonight, it's a familiar opponent in a familiar funhouse. Memorial Gym will provide the Lady Vols with the opportunity to prove they can play as a team when the bench is located somewhere in Uzbekistan. Will they answer the call? Will the magical floating rims present trouble? Will Vanderbilt again claim a sold-out game to prevent UT fans from buying tickets?
In the previous match, Tennessee destroyed Vanderbilt's interior, causing Stephanie Holzer to commit five second half fouls and giving Clarke some Glory Johnson-shaped nightmares for days afterwards. Tennessee scored 46 paint points, led rebounds 39-30, shot over 50%, and netted 28 points off turnovers. Despite an all-too close halftime score and an all-too-familiar career night for an opposing guard, it was a game that made you forget about the Kentucky loss and feel good about the chances moving forward.
Now that the Lady Vols have Taber Spani back, the perimeter game presents more of a legitimate threat. Additionally, the yeoman's work of Stricklen and Harrison in the post has allowed Glory to venture out to defend guards recently, adding a very quick and long athlete on the edge to help slow down the deep threat. Her shoulder is close to normal again which, along with the return of Spani, the healthy knee of Stricklen, and the recent surge in play from Kamiko, makes this Tennessee team as healthy as it's been in a very long time.
Speaking of Kamiko: the gal deserves special mention. When she came in against Auburn, she was everywhere on the court, disrupting the Tiger offense and finding ways to get open in the paint. Her conditioning is clearly beginning to come around, and she may help provide the defensive answer at the perimeter that Tennessee has needed.
But as always, Rube Goldberg Gym always allows the possibility of bizarro game play. The best counter is a strong interior game, where shots should be easier to see. (Then again, UT has excelled at missing the point blank attempts.) If Tennessee can replicate their interior dominance, they should walk out with a confident win and some momentum going into the rematch against Kentucky. If Dee Kantner is officiating and Glory has two fouls before the opening tipoff, then things get a lot more interesting.
Prediction: 78 - 66 Tennessee
BassWatch™: Under-4 timeout of the first half.