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Tennessee Lady Vols vs. Chattanooga, 7 PM EST

The Lady Vols have opened up playing close games against tougher-than-you'd-think opposition. Good news: Chattanooga is also one of those teams.

LET'S HAVE A REF PARTY TONIGHT
LET'S HAVE A REF PARTY TONIGHT
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

TV: SECN+ (aka the rebranded WatchESPN, aka the rebranded ESPN3)

Radio: The usual suspect

Stats: The C stands for Competent

The Lady Vols have already gotten into the habit of grinding out wins, with narrow victories over Penn State and Syracuse sitting alongside a comfortable romp over Central Arkansas. The themes so far look a lot like the themes we've seen in prior seasons: dominant interior play, strong defense, lackluster perimeter game.

That last point hasn't hurt Tennessee yet, but it's the biggest thing for the Lady Vols to figure out going forward. Chattanooga is once again good, although at least this time the game is in Knoxville. (The squad's struggles in Chattanooga are well documented at this point.) Chattanooga will do what they do best; force Tennessee's perimeter players to beat them from the floor.

At this point in the season, we can roughly slot Chattanooga into the same tier as the Lady Vols' prior two opponents. Chattanooga isn't as tall as either Penn State or Syracuse was—only a couple of players in their regular rotation break 6'0)"—so they're going to be in zone, play tight defense, and try and turn the game into a race to 60. As a team, they shoot the ball fairly well (they have five people shooting around 50% TrueFG%, although nobody's breaking the crucial 1.1 points-per-weighted-shot threshold yet), making this an experiment in reduced possessions.

The Lady Vols will have a couple of advantages: it's hard for the perimeter talent to shoot as poorly as they have so far going forward and the Bashaara Graves/Mercedes Russell combo has been deadly when they get their hands on the ball. Te'a Cooper went 4-17 from the floor against Syracuse; Diamond DeShields went 0-5. Getting a combined 4-22 from both of those players is going to be difficult to duplicate, and even a few extra buckets may be enough.

Chattanooga has already lost one game 54-43 (to Indiana), so they can be shut down. Their highest score of the season: 68 (against McNeese State). So: race to 60 it is.

Tennessee's length on the perimeter and interior height should be enough for them to come away with the win in Knoxville, but it'll be close. Much as I'm loath to rely on the Graves-Russell combo yet again (the Lady Vols will need improved guard play when they face off against teams who can match them inside), in the meantime there's no reason to not take advantage of them. They'll need a third scorer, but three strong will probably be enough to carry against a UTC squad giving up height at every position on the court pretty much all game.

PREDICTION: Tennessee 63, Chattanooga 56.

[Ed. Hooper]: Like Pendley notes, Tennessee can ride the hot hand of Russell/Graves all night long, as Chatt's lineup at any time will be 6'-2", 6'-0", 5'-9", 5'-9", 5'-4".  That's 4 inches for Russell and 2 for Graves, along with about 3" each for everybody else at any time.  Lob it in and let magic happen.  But also as Pendley noted, the rest of the team has to start contributing something meaningful to the cause.  My wild guess of a prediction is 68-61 Tennessee, which is functionally the same, save about 4 extra possessions in the game.  (UT will want to run and Chatt will want to bleed the clock, so it's anybody's guess what the final number of possessions will be.)