When the Tennessee Lady Volunteers take to the court on Thursday in Baton Rouge, La., they may have something more to play for than just their 23rd victory of the season.
With a 9 p.m. tip against the LSU Lady Tigers, the No. 10 Lady Vols' hopes of a SEC regular season title will hang in the balance as the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks square off against the Georgia Bulldogs.
A Gamecock loss would open up the possibility for Tennessee to face off against the current leaders in the SEC – USC has already claimed a share of the regular season title – with an opportunity to share the conference crown.
With so much on the line, the Lady Vols will surely be watching closely as that contest concludes.
Or will they?
"It really doesn't matter to me if we find out or not," said senior guard Meighan Simmons about finding out the result of the USC-UGA game. "Let the best team win and we will see what happens from then on."
It was only 10 days ago that the Lady Vols controlled their own destiny in the SEC, but a crippling loss at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats derailed that path.
Head coach Holly Warlick said that loss to their bordering rival showed a new side of this team she hadn't seen before.
"I do (think the girls took that one especially hard)," Warlick said. "I think the meaning behind it – with us staying in track with South Carolina and playing on our home court and having a huge crowd – all came into play. They took it very hard and that's OK. That shows me that they care and that it means something to them."
But with everything riding on the game prior to theirs, the Lady Vols are more focused on LSU, a team that defeated them back on Jan. 2 inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
"We had a chance to control our own destiny and we lost, so our fate is kind of in Georgia's hands," Warlick said. "Would I love Georgia to beat them? Absolutely, but it's not even a contest if we don't take care of LSU ... so that's what our focus has been on."
Hot off the press
In their previous matchup with the Lady Tigers, Tennessee found itself down 16 points with 4:37 remaining in the game when Warlick decided to change things up.
With nothing else working, the second-year head coach turned to the full-court press on defense – a move that almost won UT the ballgame.
The Lady Vols recorded five steals in those final four minutes and cut the lead down to three with one final possession, but redshirt freshman Andraya Carter's game-tying 3-point attempt rimmed out.
With the press being such a success against LSU, Warlick said the Lady Vols may use the defense as more than just a desperation scheme – if there current minutes situation allows it.
"I think we'll probably press them a little bit more," Warlick said. "I thought we did a great job at Missouri off pressing and slowing them down, so I think we are going to use our press when need be.
"We are going to have to be very mindful because if Jordan (Reynolds) doesn't play we are going to have to make sure that we watch our minutes and use our timeouts very wisely."
For Carter, there is another takeaway from the end of that game she believes the team would benefit more from.
"Even more so than the press, we need to come out with that sense of urgency," Carter said. "No matter what defensive scheme we try to do, I think that sense of urgency and energy that we had when we went to the press in the final minutes of that game is what we are going to focus on more.
"Having that attitude, that energy and that heart. That's what we want."
While Isabelle Harrison is currently in the midst of a career year – averaging a career-high in points and rebounds per game, as well as a career-high in field goal percentage – one thing has limited even further production from the junior center: foul trouble.
In the Lady Vols' last contest against the Missouri Tigers, Harrison played only 18 minutes and didn't make a field goal due in large part to battling foul trouble.
The reduced playing time, however, did not affect the Nashville, Tenn., native in terms of her dominance on the boards as she still managed to corral 10 rebounds.
Harrison's ability to stay on the floor could be the difference maker in the Lady Vols' ability to stay alive in the SEC regular season title race.
"Izzy is one of our leaders on the team, especially in the post area," Simmons said. "I think with her being in foul trouble, it kind of slows the game down. Izzy brings that extra oomph, she gets a lot of rebounds, she has great communication – she's always talking out there on the floor – and we really need her to be out there on the floor.
"Thursday there are going to be some lessons that she learns, there are going to be some things that she will do in practice that are going to help her get her confidence back up and be a lot smarter, so I think she's going to do a pretty good job in the next game."