If anybody in the SEC has had a worse run of injuries than Tennessee, it's Vanderbilt. Star center Stephanie Holzer has missed the whole season. Clair Watkins sustained a season-ending knee injury in January. Starter Kady Schrann was day-to-day last week. Star guard Christina Foggie is expected to miss the game today as well. Of their five returning starters, two will be out and a third (Schrann) will be coming off an ankle injury.
On Tennessee's side, Isabelle Harrison and Andraya Carter are out. Kamiko Williams and Jasmine Jones are both back after injuries earlier in conference play. Both teams will be relying on depth that they had hoped to spend more time developing, so it may be a game where some down-roster matchups end up making a difference.
But most likely, the usual suspects will dictate this one. On Vandy's side, Jasmine Lister keys the offense at the point and has always been a bit of a thorn for Tennessee. At 5'-4", she's one of the nimble guards that UT has always struggled to defend, though placing Jones on her would likely work well. Senior Tiffany Clarke leads the team in scoring and rebounds and will be a tough match for Graves, Burdick, and Moore to handle. For Tennessee, if Simmons is hot, this one's done. If Graves outplays Clarke (which, Graves is terrific, but Clarke cannot be underestimated), this one's done. If the starters get in foul trouble, this will get difficult.
And now, the bullet points:
- Bashaara Graves. This is pretty much an auto-bullet for the rest of the year (and the next three years after that). Graves is already more physical in the paint than almost any post player in the country regardless of experience, and very few teams have a good answer for her. Vanderbilt is missing Holzer (out for season) and Watkins (also out for season) and are very thin in the interior. If Graves has a double-double, Vanderbilt will have a very difficult time winning.
- Tiffany Clarke. She is the one answer in the interior for Vanderbilt. Last time, Clarke rang up 19 points and 10 rebounds in only 26 minutes. She can't be allowed to have that kind of production again. Without such numbers, Vanderbilt doesn't stand much chance.
- Meighan Simmons. If she's on, this game is over. Lather/rinse/repeat for the rest of SEC play.
- Kamiko Williams. Vanderbilt absolutely has to rely on guard play to keep Tennessee from smothering Clarke in the interior. That means that Kamiko will have to continue to play as well as she has in conference this year. Her athleticism and recent nose for the ball can turn the bench depth solidly into Tennessee's favor.
- Rebounds. Without Harrison, Tennessee hasn't been as strong at rebounding. Last time, they led Vandy 46-43 on the glass with Harrison pulling down a team-leading 9 boards, but Clarke had 10.
- A/TO. This is why Lister is a problem. Last time, Tennessee had 14 assists and 14 turnovers for an A/TO of ... let's see ... carry the four ... an A/TO of 1. Vandy had 16 A / 6 TO for a 2.67 A/TO. That's how Tennessee can outshoot Vandy by 10%, make one more three, make nine more free throws, and still only win by 8 points. Tennessee has to keep this stat closer primarily by not turning the ball over.
Last time, Tennessee won 83-75 in Memorial. This one's at home, where Tennessee generally plays much better. Put me down for a 79 - 64 Tennessee win. [Pendley's taking 78 - 65. I think we're seeing the same things in this one.] Graves as POG due to rebounding unless Simmons goes off for 25+. Clarke will do well, but Vanderbilt will struggle at the guard position without Foggie.