Internet: UT Sports
Radio: Homer Radio
Let's start with the obvious: 80-71. That was the final score of the game against UT-Chattanooga last year, and the Lady Vols were not on the favorable end. Chatt won their first game against the Lady Vols since before Pat Summitt started coaching, started Holly Warlick's official head coaching career with a loss, and gave the Lady Vols a very unpleasant trip home to Knoxville. Tonight, UT can get that bad taste out of their mouth by kindly returning the favor. But let's go ahead and review that game.
Chattanooga won off of 47% field goal shooting, building an early cushion and never letting UT sniff a chance at the lead. Tennessee's 38% shooting wasn't bad, really, but that 6/26 A/TO line really left a mark and is probably the single stat that identifies the game. But if you really want a second signature stat, here you go: Meighan Simmons led all Lady Vols with 23 points. On 25 shots. (9/25 FG, 1/8 3P, 4/5 FT, if you must know, and you can thank Chris for making this a go-to stat.)
So ... B grade horror film level turnovers, an ineffective defense, and a shooting strategy taken straight from the rec league, and it all turns into a loss. Fix those and UT should be alright. And by all appearances, none of those issues should really be in play. After a shaky opening 20 minutes against MTSU, Tennessee has been quite solid against two very good opponents. This team now belongs to Ariel Massengale, which has not only stabilized the offense, but has allowed Simmons to live in a more defined role and not feel like she has to take every shot on the floor. Meanwhile, the only datum on the Mocs comes from their opener against Alabama - an 82-70 win against a team expected to finish at the bottom of the SEC. All appearances are that of a solid win by Tennessee.
Bullet points, because we love 'em:
- Manage the fouls. It's the auto-bullet for the season. The one thing Tennessee needs to avoid is having all the posts on the bench early on.
- Stop Taylor Hall. The forward led the Mocs against Alabama with 24 points and a team-leading 4 assists. In 37 minutes, she only committed 1 foul but hit all 6 of her free throw attempts. Cut her production and force Chattanooga to look for alternatives.
- While you're at it, stop the point. Tennessee's guards are good enough to defend in the new rules. After a couple games of shakedown, this would be a very good time to let that athleticism and tenacity through.
- 10 > 16. Chattanooga has 16 players on the roster (!) but used a rotation of 8 versus Alabama. Tennessee has 10 but rotates 9. That's an extra 4 fouls available that they shouldn't be afraid of using if absolutely necessary.
- Rebounds. Duh. Tennessee has height all over the place and should be able to win this category.
- Mercedes Watch. I firmly believe that centers have the toughest transition from high school to college, and Mercedes is not immune, especially when opening on the road against two teams that are expected to make the tournament. Strength and conditioning will come with time, but positioning and technique can improve weekly. She doesn't need to turn into a Mulkey-free Griner overnight - just show progress. We'll need her in March, not December.
Prediction: Tennessee 87 - Chattanooga 63. I don't expect them to go easy on this one.
Moore Nia, Please. Is this the game she logs her first minutes? I'm going to guess that it is, once the outcome is obvious.