When we last left the Lady Vols, they were staging their first fourth quarter comeback of the season against Green Bay en route to a 59-53 win over Phoenix. In Ironic Name News Belying Team Performance, Green Bay was outscored 15-8 in the last quarter. The reward: a matchup against functional home squad Arizona State, who split the regular-season Pac-12 championship with Oregon State.
Yeah, that Oregon State. The first big team that Tennessee notched a win over this year after dropping decisions to Texas and Stanford. Arizona State only has six losses on the season, between two to four of which are understandable (South Carolina and Oregon State for sure, Kentucky and UCLA possibly less so) and two of which are kind of weird (VCU and Cal, the latter of which came in the Pac-12 Tournament). This would seem to put Arizona State around the 10th-15th range of "tough but beatable", although as a true road game it's significantly tougher than, say, beating Texas A&M in a neutral site affair.
The Sun Devils have a strong shooting team, let on the outside by Katie Hempen (44% beyond the arc) and the Sophie Brunner/Quinn Dornstauder combination inside. Those three appear to have more than one point per weighted shot, so limiting their opportunities is going to be paramount. I'd really love to give you more, but ...honestly, WBBState going dark because of server issues is such a buzzkill for the opponent preview parts of this.
So, for Tennessee ...this is going to be tough. They will now not go down as the worst NCAA tournament performance in Tennessee (that dishonor going to the Baby Vols squad), which should hopefully ease some of the pressure. A win in Tempe tonight would be huge, and even with an ensuing loss in the Sweet 16 that would represent somewhere around Tennessee's expected peak performance.
With a loss, I'm not sure a ton changes going into next year. I covered a lot of this during the Georgia game to close out the regular season, but a lot of that still applies here. This squad finally looks to be an approximation of what they were supposed to be, and that's important. They're not in the elite tier of teams this year, but after one of the toughest Lady Vol seasons to date, this is how they reach their ceiling.
PREDICTION: 64-59 Tennessee, as I blatantly steal Hooper's 64-59 ASU prediction but flip the teams.
BONUS NARRATIVE EXTRA: Mark Jones is going to be on the call, so expect a very healthy dose of Warlick Hot Seat talk.