TIME: 6:30 PM EST
RADIO / INTERNET RADIO: LADY VOLS NETWORK
Could it really be any other way?
Tennessee and Kentucky have formed a great rivalry on the men's side of the ball. With Pearl having brought Tennessee into national prominence and Calipari having become the gasoline so casually tossed onto a well-lit fire, the two fanbases are primed for a roundball border war.
In women's basketball, the roles are reversed; Tennessee is the longstanding legacy powerhouse while Kentucky is the upstart. In fact, Kentucky's last (and only) trip to the SEC finals was in 1982 and this year's squad was picked to finish 11th in the conference during the preseason. Matt Mitchell earned his coach of the year honors by transforming the forgotten pack into a rather exciting group of players who are now the SEC's best hopes at stopping the Summitt juggernaut.
The key to Kentucky's success (and, by extention, to stopping them) centers around two players.Victoria Dunlap is the unquestioned leader of the team. The junior forward is the interior presence of the Wildcats and leads the team in points, rebounds, and is second in minutes played. Everything on their offense ultimately runs through her. (The only other Wildcat over 6 feet tall who gets significant minutes is Lydia Watkins, a 6'-1" forward who gets about 16 minutes a game.) To see Dunlap's importance to the team, look at their semifinal matchup on Saturday: against Mississippi State, Dunlap had a dismal first half with only four points; Kentucky trailed the Lady Bulldogs 35-24. In the second half, Dunlap scored over 10 points before the first media timeout and Kentucky outpaced MSU 52-30 to win the game.
Shut down Dunlap, and you shut down Kentucky.
Dunlap's safety valve is hotshot freshman A'dia Mathies - a 5'-9" guard with a lot of athletic ability and a knack for playmaking. Mathies is the team leader in minutes played and is the heart of Kentucky's perimeter offense. If Dunlap is double-teamed, Mathies is the one who breaks loose for three-point shots or for penetration off the dribble. The combination of Dunlap and Mathies make up the 1-2 punch in Kentucky's offense that has propelled them to the championship game.
Unfortunately for Kentucky, Tennessee appears primed to handle their two best players. The interior force of Kelley Cain, Alyssia Brewer, and Glory Johnson has thus far been unstoppable for the SEC. Likewise, Alicia Manning and Glory Johnson have shown the intensity and aggressiveness needed to shut down an opponent's top perimeter player. Can Kentucky break through Summitt's formidable defense? Likewise, can they disrupt Tennessee's very potent offense?
GO LADY VOLS!