Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
At this rate, maybe we should challenge them to a game of horse.
No, the title is not a typo. Tennessee's functionally down to 5 players, with possibilities on two others. At the time of this writing (Tuesday night), Jasmine Jones is expected to practice with the team and Kamiko is day-to-day. Nia Moore and Jasmine Phillips are healthy, but when they didn't get into the Missouri game after the Williams and Jones injuries, well, it's probably not realistic to expect them to be a major part of the game plan.
Back in the 1998-1999 season, the Lady Vols had just come off their most dominant season ever: 39-0 and an average margin of victory of 31 points, including a 15 point win over then-#3 UConn, a 24-point win over then-#3 Old Dominion, and wins over #2/#4 Louisiana Tech of 14 and 18 points (the latter being the national championship game). And the core of that team was pretty much intact, with the Three Meeks returning. Unfortunately, injuries took their toll and the 98-99 squad (which was on paper better than the 97-98 team) limped to three loses and an Elite Eight exit. And that squad was not as depleted as this year's team is today.
This year's team was never one of the top four in the country, what with the transition of coaches, the youth, and the loss of so much experience. But expecting them to be a top 10 team without having a bench to rotate into the game might be a bit much. So today, while we hope for a win (and perhaps are even so bold as to expect one), it's time to take a breath and not pile on unfair expectations.
To win, Simmons will have to have a good night (unlike Missouri) and provide enough spark to give Tennessee a run or two. Graves will have to be the (non-Mickey) MVP, though, as the next paragraph will explain. Turnovers will have to be kept to a minimum, and the team will likely camp out in a zone defense all game long.
Fortunately, LSU is not built like Missouri. They are only 25% from three and attempt the three ball only about once every six shots. They like interior play, which Tennessee is much better prepared to handle (so long as fouls don't become an issue). Here is where Graves is key. If she gets in foul trouble, Tennessee will have a very tough night ahead of them. Graves will have to balance early caution to keep fouls down, yet stay aggressive enough to make a difference.
What will this game look like? We really don't know. I don't think I'll venture a prediction until Tennessee fields a real live team again.
Oh. And if the ref is Dee Kantner, we might as well call it a night.