"Kamiko" is Swahili for "Tiger Slayer". Maybe. - Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
The Lady Vols look to stay atop the SEC standings as they play their 5th conference game against Tigers.
Tonight's game will be the fifth in-conference game against a Tigers team (Missouri x2, Auburn x2, and LSU x1), which just sounds absurdly high. Tonight's Tigers team has had a terribly disappointing conference run and is sitting at 3-9, well below their talent level. They played Tennessee closely in the first match on the Plains, and a win tonight would make amends for many frustrations they've faced this year.
On paper, Auburn is a well-balanced team with good size inside and a good mix of guards on the outside. Guard Hasina Muhammad plays much like Kamiko Williams and is their leading scorer with 15.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG, but an A/TO of 0.7. Point Guard Najat Ouardad is exactly the type of person that can frustrate Tennessee, a short (5'-1") point who loves to duck through the trees and make a pest of herself. She has the best A/TO of 1.5 but only scores 4.8 per game. The real favorite of Auburn fans is senior guard/forward Blanche Alverson, a 6'-3" Spani-like forward who shoots a good three ball (39%), gets 11.7 PPG, and has an A/TO of 1.4. On most teams, those three would be quite sufficient for a much better SEC mark. Add 6'-5" center Peyton Davis, and they should be in the upper half of the league. Unfortunately, I have not seen enough of their games to understand why they have struggled.
At any rate, the pieces are there, even if they haven't made it work this year. Despite some good size, the Tigers have not been terribly impressive at rebounding. Blanche is the only player averaging 6 or more per game (6.0 overall, 6.2 in conference), and they suffer at offensive boards largely because she's usually on the wing and out of position to help off the glass. Free throws are also a bit wanting, hanging around 64% on the year. Blanche is unsurprisingly the best FT shooter on the team (82%), but like most long-range shooters, she doesn't go to the line a lot.
In the previous game, Auburn kept things close largely through controlled tempo (only 58 shots per team), solid shooting (43%) and above-average free throws (72%). They were undone by turning the ball over a touch more than Tennessee (20 vs. 19, which, ugh) and Ouardad eventually fouling out of the game. But overall, they statistically matched Tennessee in most facets on their home floor.
Now that home court swings in Tennessee's favor, the pace of play should be much quicker, allowing Tennessee's transition game to assert itself. The Lady Vols will have to manage fouls in the interior; Auburn's centers aren't world beaters by any means, but they're taller than what Tennessee has, even if they have to go three deep. And even though Auburn has more talent on the perimeter, some doses of zone may actually be useful; Ouardad and Muhammad can both cause problems if they get a step, and Blanche can get hot if Auburn can set up effective screens. Going zone all game would be a mistake, but judicious application would keep Auburn from finding a rhythm.
- Bashaara Graves, Meighan Simmons, blahblahblah. There's no point on harping about these two anymore.
- Jasmine Jones, PG Defender. Seriously, Jones may be the best option for man defense on Ouardad, which would have a 5'-1" point covered by a 6'-2" forward. Hilarity ensues.
- Simmons vs. Muhammad. Okay, this gets mention. These two could be a fun matchup to watch if they both get going.
- Play the long game. Auburn wore down against Tennessee last meeting, which led to foul issues and allowed Tennessee to pull out for good. Tennessee has to play the first half to (a) not get in a hole, (b) not get in foul trouble, and (c) set up Auburn for foul or fatigue problems later on. Lots of transition offense would really help here.
- Keep the turnovers down, kthx. This year's team is much better about turnovers than last year, but they have been overly generous lately. Get the A/TO back where it should be (1.5 would be great) and get the passing under control.
It's at home, Tennessee's rested, and both Jasmine Jones and Nia Moore are beginning to have meaningful impacts. Also, Meighan Simmons has found a pull-up jumper to complement her drives, and Ariel has become a layup machine. I'll take Tennessee 82 - 65 in a more comfortable win than last time.
No boob tube for this one (boo!), but it'll be streamed on the UT website. Stats are here, and MickeySonic is here, as well as on Sports Animal radio. The dulcet tones of everybody's favorite homer should also be available on the video stream so the internet radio link may be redundant. Tipoff is at 7 PM Eastern as usual.