The No. 4 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (17-2, 4-0) will look to bounce back from their 74-70 loss to Duke as they hit the road to face the No. 14 Vanderbilt Commodores (17-3, 3-2) Thursday night in Nashville.
Vanderbilt is off to one of its best starts in school history, but even though they dominated a mediocre non-conference schedule, they have been up and down in SEC play with a 3-2 conference record.
Junior guard Alexis Hornbuckle said the Lady Volunteers have to forget about the Duke loss and that the team knows the importance of this game when it comes to winning the SEC.
“The SEC is more important to us than a regular season ACC game,” Hornbuckle said. “We wanted to win but at the same time know that does not affect our SEC record. Our goal is to win the SEC outright, then the SEC championship, then NCAA. So we are still taking the right steps; we are still on track.”
The in-state rivalry between the two teams had been historically one-sided for years. Then, in 2005, Vanderbilt beat Tennessee for the first time in 25 games.
In their last meeting of 2006, Tennessee had to storm back from a double-digit first half deficit for a 70-67 victory. In previous years, Tennessee had gotten in a habit of falling down to Vanderbilt early, and senior Sidney Spencer said how important it is for the team to not get off to a slow start this Thursday.
“I think Vanderbilt comes out on fire, executing,” she said. “I do not know if it catches us off guard, but this year we have to make the extra effort to make sure we are on focus and ready to play.”
In last year’s contest, Candace Parker paced the Lady Vols with a team high 19 points and Spencer pitched in with 11, including a key jump shot down the stretch.
This game is expected to be high-scoring and fast-paced. Vanderbilt is second in the SEC in scoring and Tennessee is third.
In the Duke game, Tennessee struggled to get their transition game going, but they usually thrive in the open court and consider themselves a fast-paced team. The keys for a Tennessee win will be to combine good transition play with the ability to maintain the excellent half court game that was featured during the second half of the Duke game. The Lady Vols were held to a mere four fast-break points Monday night.
In the second half, UT hit eight crucial 3-pointers and Candace Parker was a force driving the ball to the hole scoring 14 points in the paint.
However, the team struggled with defensive switching on the perimeter, often leaving hot shooter Abby Waner open. The Lady Vols must correct this issue because the Commodores are known for their good outside shooters.
Carolina Williams and Christina Worth are Vanderbilt’s clutch shooters from behind the 3-point arc, combining for 85 3-pointers in the team’s first twenty games.
Hornbuckle added that the Duke loss will in no way affect Tennessee’s confidence.
“It is discouraging to lose, but also, it very 3comforting to know we got down 19 points, we go into halftime down 11, and we lose the game by four,” Hornbuckle said. “So now we are going to go into practice and work and carry the same confidence and swagger into the Vanderbilt game.”