TV / Video: CSS / ESPN3
So, Sunday never happened, right? Nobody saw Kentucky own the glass in the first half, offensive-boarding their way into a semblance of an offense, waiting for Tennessee to go cold and eventually squeaking out a win when Carter and Simmons couldn't avoid the trigger-happy whistle of Metta Roberts, right? Never happened?
/Sigh. Well, with the SEC regular season title likely out of reach for Tennessee, we can now focus instead on locking everything in place for the postseason. Tennessee is still in good shape for a 2 seed and not likely to fall below a 3, so the main goal is to get things clicking and develop some confidence. And that starts with Auburn.
- If Lisa Mattingly shows up, they might as well turn off the lights. Auburn is perhaps the most foul-happy team in the SEC. They give up 20.5 fouls/game, leading to 23 percent of their opponents' points/game. Tyrese and Tra'Cee Tanner have fouled out 5 and 4 times in 12 conference games. This game is in Knoxville. The equation is clear.
- Zone defense, much? Auburn is only 26% from behind the arc and 45% from within. The best three-point percentage on the team is Khady Dieng, at a lofty 32%. She only plays 9 minutes a game. Make them jack threes.
0.7 A/TO, 17 turnovers / game. That's Auburn, not Tennessee, in case Sunday's never-happened game crossed your mind.
- The Tanner sisters both average double figures / game. They're the only two Tigers who do that (16 and 11 ppg for Tyrese and Tra'Cee, in that order), which is probably one more shooter than Baylor has. They're both forwards as well, but you probably knew that if you were reading this far.
On Tennessee's side, we hope that Ariel Massengale is back. For all our disdain for the officiating on Sunday (which still never happened, right?), Tennessee is really thin on guard depth. When Carter and Simmons have to go to the bench, UT is left with Jordan Reynolds and Jasmine Jones at the one and two, respectively, which should just never happen. That was much of the trouble Tennessee had on Sunday's non-game.
Since we've basically seen the road map for tonight, let's talk on things Tennessee needs to lock down heading into the postseason.
- Consistency for Cierra Burdick. She has been much better as of late, but the 2-8 shooting against Kentucky was reminiscent of her pre-sports-psychologist funk. That happens, but a few games of last year's shooting would help her confidence greatly.
- A game with both Harrison and Graves beasting. We tend to see one or the other have a nice night. Last time was Graves, but Harrison struggled a bit with her shot (8-18). Once they both click, there's no reason to not see a double-double from both of them in one night.
- Guard depth. This comes down to Massengale knocking the rust off. The sooner, the better. Reynolds has improved, but is still an offseason away from handling major duties. Carter is now a much improved point guard, but Tennessee can't rely on her alone, as playing a foul-free point limits her greatest strengths.
- A hot start. Every team has lulls in 40 minutes, but having one happen in the first 5 gets old. That was why Kentucky started on a torrid O-board streak and stayed in the game in the opening minutes. If Tennessee can come out firing on all cylinders, they can put a game away quickly.
Prediction: 82 - 67 Tennessee. Auburn's foul troubles will keep this from being particularly close. But Tennessee will still have some lulls, either from a lack of guard depth or from working Massengale back into the rotation.
First player to two fouls: Tyrese Tanner. There are plenty of candidates for this one, and I'm just spitting in the wind on my guess. But Tennessee will force things inside early, which should give her plenty of opportunity to sit on the bench to end the first half.
BONUS: Number of Kentucky fans who rag on me for dismissing Sunday. Probably zero, actually. The few who do read our posts tend to at least read the bold print and will catch the obvious bait.