Bridge Four: Tennessee vs. Notre Dame, 7 PM EST

The "you're cool" of the 2013-14 Lady Vols. - Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

In yet another showdown (this happens when you don't blow opponents out), Tennessee faces the best team it's seen all year. This is going to go well.

TV: ESPN2 / ESPN3

Radio: you know, the usual

Gametracker: miss you, 2012-13 Gametracker

Tennessee should lose this game, point blank, full stop. There is nothing that I've seen in the last two weeks that tells me Tennessee can play 40 minutes with a Notre Dame squad that's rightfully the second best team in the country.

That sucks, for the record. Not that Notre Dame's clocking in at 16-0 - they're good, great, national title contenders for a reason - but that this isn't the battle for the #2 ranking. This has nothing to do with the Stanford loss - Chiney Ogwumike's the best post in the country for a reason - and everything to do with the last two weeks, where the only Tennessee we've seen came in the opening 30 minutes against Georgia; I have no clue who's been wearing Lady Vols uniforms the remaining 130 minutes, but they look like a Sweet 16 team. I have no idea what Grind for 9 means if the team can't use hot rage to shape their talent.

And so Tennessee's probably going to lose. They'll lose because Kayla McBride is still there (16.3 ppg on 13.8 shots, 47% from 3, 49% FG overall, 3.5 A), because Jewell Loyd is destroying all comers (17.2 ppg on 13.6 shots, 50% FG overall, 6.3 reb), and because Michaela Mabrey has taken up the third guard mantle (9.5 ppg on 7.6 shots, 44% from 3, 45% FG overall, 2.3 A/TO), and hey look it's a three-guard lineup. Tennessee's done so well against those. Also, Natalie Achnowa (13.5 ppg on 9.6(!) shots, 57.6% from the floor) is still around, let's not forget.

Oh, and a full 7 players on Notre Dame who average more than 5 PPG average more points per weighted shot than Tennessee's most likely Hero Ball candidate, Meighan Simmons, who's currently sitting on a neat 1.01 points per weighted shot. That's bad, by the way. (Let's not even talk about Cierra Burdick; I have no clue what happened to her - is she injured? - but 0.80 points per weighted shot is currently tied for 1,671st nationally.)

Yes, there are positives - Isabelle Harrison is playing lights out so long as Lisa Mattingly and her random foul generator isn't on the court (if you close your eyes and listen really closely, on a cold, clear night you can hear Mar'ques Webb flopping from hundreds of miles away), Ariel Massengale is the best guard on the team, Andraya Carter is a joy to watch, and Bashaara Graves + Mercedes Russell = 40 minutes of low post terror - but Jasmine Jones has 3+ TO in 8(!) games already (her latest special: 4 TO in 11 minutes), so yes, she can defend but that's about it, Simmons has her beat at 3+ TO in 9 games (including a couple of 6-spots, a lofty high Jones hasn't achieved yet), and yelling and clapping doesn't help when opposing guards are busy lighting up the scoreboard.

So heck with that approach. Get mad. Get pissed. Take it out on Notre Dame. Remember that absurd near-comeback from LSU when the whole team just went off? Try doing that for 40 minutes instead of talking about how you need to do better. Get nasty. Be the villain. Tennessee is - or should be at worst - better than this. This game is winnable. Here's how:

  • Try to avoid getting a technical when you pick up your fourth foul. Look, let's start with the basics since apparently we need to talk about this.
  • Play more zone defense. Man defense, for whatever reason, sucks this year. (We're using technical terms here today.) Notre Dame's going to decimate this team playing man, so don't bother with Hero Defense. Just zone it up, accept the limitations, and use the absurd length on this team for good. Winning pretty against good teams is something you can do when you can beat good teams.
  • Don't play the hero. Three things: NO HERO BALL, SIMMONS. No hero passes, anyone. No going it alone unless you can do it.
  • Peak ability. I'm looking at Harrison, Massengale, Graves, and Carter here. These are the only players on this team I trust can actually play at the peak of their abilities in this game. (I'd put Russell on this list, but freshman and free throws - more importantly, free throws - and this season isn't on her anyway.) Act and play like you belong and hope the rest of the crew follows through.
  • Play pissed. Remember that LSU run? Remember how focused the team and the crowd was? Yeah, that. For 40 minutes, not 6, and not when you're down 30, okay? Great. Glad we had this talk.

Prediction: 82-67 Notre Dame. I hope someone reads this piece, prints it out, and pins it to the Lady Vols' bulletin board. I hope the team reads it, I hope they get pissed, and I hope they prove this wrong.

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