February 16, 2012
Stark Vegas, MS
9:00 PM EST
TV: CSS / ESPN3
Internet Audio: Lady Vols Network
Live Stats: GameTracker
18-7 (9-3 SEC)
14-11 (4-8 SEC)
Coming off the first truly Lady Vol-like performance in a long time, Tennessee hits the road to play a Mississippi State squad that is currently 8th in the SEC and not quite a shoe-in for the NIT. Sharon Fanning-Otis coaches perhaps the longest roster in the SEC with 15 total players, but only seven see any serious playing time. A win would make MSU's season, but they will have a tough challenge getting there.
For Tennessee, this isn't about the postseason. At all. This is about building some consistency and proving that Monday's beat down of Kentucky was more about Tennessee playing well than Kentucky playing poorly. It's really as simple as that, so let's get to the rosters.
As an aside: I update the stats in the roster table within a day or two after the previous game, and updating the Lady Vols usually consists of tweaking an occasional digit after the decimal point. This time, most numbers happily went upward (except for Glory, who was Lisa Mattingly'd). Meighan Simmons's points per game went up by 0.5, which is an enormous swing this late in the season.
Ok, back to the roster.
Mississippi State will be significantly shorter than Tennessee tonight. They do have 6'-5" Bett in the middle as well as 6'-4" freshman Martha Alwal off the bench. Two of the three of Bett, Brown, and Alwal will start, so it's worth mentioning that Alwal is the team's leading rebounder at 7.8 boards per game. The rebounding game will be decided by Tennessee's will: they're tall enough to give Tennessee rebounding issues if Tennessee isn't aggressive on the glass, but not skilled enough to keep up with Tennessee otherwise.
Outside of rebounding, MSU will have to find a couple legitimate scoring threats, and in a hurry. They're averaging only 51.6 points in SEC play, including a 53-50 overtime win over Ole Miss (which awesomely featured away-and-away jerseys - MSU in Black/Maroon, and Ole Miss in Red). With short players and Tennessee's newfound 3-2 zone that stifled Kentucky, MSU won't find much room for passing and will have to rely on three point shooting to keep Tennessee's defense honest.
Three point shooting? MSU is averaging 24% in league play.
On Tennessee's side, the equation is simple: Keep Meighan Simmons rolling and bury the sophomore slump for good. Keep Stricklen aggressive and playing like a star. Get as many others on track as possible: Spani's three-ball, Manning's disruptive pressure, Baugh's athleticism, and Burdick's awesome shooting are just a few things that can get on a roll tonight.
This is a game that Tennessee can win handily, even if they're out of sync. The importance of this game isn't the win, but whether they play like Lady Vols instead of a very talented pickup team at the local rec center. It's always painful to say it, but Tennessee needs to be merciless and bury Mississippi State early - and then keep the gas pedal down until even Brianna Bass gets bored of scoring. This isn't about the win, but about the mentality. And it's not even about the postseason, but just simply being the best team they can be for one night.
Prediction: 95 - 49 Tennessee. Make it happen.
BassWatch™: Under-12 timeout of the first half.