Video: Looking LIVE at Fox Sports 1
Audio: I don't believe it.
When we left the Lady Vols last, they were busy getting stupid against Chattanooga, falling down 16(!) at halftime before rebounding to barely lose. That means Holly Warlick is 0-2 against UT-C on the road, which is the early favorite for weirdest Warlick-related stat.
It's more than just a venue curse, though; Chattanooga ran a lot of screens on offense and basically waited for Tennessee's switching man coverage to break down, then attacked the rim. A still-pretty-young rotation struggled handling that game, although it got better in the second half. Although heavy screen play typically gives Tennessee fits until they figure out how to adjust to it (I'd be remiss for not noting that UT-Chattanooga also shot 70% in the first half against Tennessee's 30%, so the Mocs were hitting everything).
The Lady Vols can't afford to let any hangover from Wednesday carry through today at all. Texas is far better than Chattanooga, and they already have one win over a top-10 squad to boot (an 87-81 win over Stanford). This will need to be the Lady Vols' best game, and even with that it may not be enough if the full roster isn't ready to go.
This game will more than likely hinge on the availability of Isabelle Harrison (last seen not in the starting lineup, so make of that what you will). If Harrison can go and play 20-25 minutes at her usual level, Tennessee absolutely can walk out of Austin with a win. If she can't, then there's a huge gap to make up. Let's go to the bullet points.
- Who defends the post? Texas isn't a particularly tall team, with the notable exception of 6'5" starting C and leading scorer Kelsey Lang. I haven't seen Lang before, so I don't know how mobile she is or it she's more of a Chris Mihm type (aka tall but not particularly skilled). Lang is going to be a tough assignment for whoever draws her; in a non-Harrison world, this is probably going to be Nia Moore, who'll be giving up a couple of inches. I don't know if Moore is up for this, honestly. Maybe Bashaara Graves can split duties? Again, by height there isn't much to be too worried about, so fronting/ball-denial plays should be able to work here. On offense, get Lang moving laterally maybe?
- Boards, boards, boards. In addition to Lang, Nneka Enemkpali and Nekia Jones are also strong on the boards (well, maybe; Jones' 10 boards came in 16 minutes of action against UT-San Antonio). The Lady Vols haven't been great on the glass without Harrison-they've been okay, but okay won't get it done here. Texas' guard-heavy lineup is loaded with strong shooters; Lang, Enemkpali, Ariel Atkins, Brooke McCarty, and Brady Sanders all have a True% greater than 50%, although a couple of those are boosted by free throw numbers. Point being: they're better from the field than the Lady Vols have seen so far, so winning the battle of the boards is critical.
- Foul trouble? However, Texas can and does foul. Their top seven(!) scorers have at least one game with three fouls with the exception of Sanders (Lang, Enemkpali, and Empress Davenport have all fouled out). Lang is obviously the player Tennessee's going to want to target here. Tennessee will be able to hang with Texas' guard rotation this year, but I'm less concerned with the Lady Vols' ability to generate offense as much as I am their defense right now.
- Who steps up? Jasmine Jones(!) had the hot hand against UT-Chattanooga, which probably isn't a good long-term sign unless she's magically found a shot after two-plus years of not having one. There were a lot of quiet Lady Vols on Wednesday, some due to foul trouble (Graves, Moore), some due to unknown factors (Ariel Massengale?). Cierra Burdick's presence here should help stabilize some of the early nerves, but this team needs to hash out its non-Harrison pecking order and fast, which is to say they needed to have done that already. So yes, Harrison ties back to everything. Get well ....now?
LISA MATTINGLY THREAT WATCH: Depressingly high. However: Dee Kantner's at the Paradise Jam, so at least that won't be an issue.
PREDICTION: 79-72 Texas, unless Harrison goes, in which case: 82-74 Tennessee. (Yeah, Izzy's worth a 15-point swing.) Hooper's going with 81-79 Tennessee.