Throughout the season the No. 1 Lady Vols have been put through tough tests, especially on the road. This weekend will be no different, as the team prepares to take on No. 4 seed Maryland at noon on Sunday in their Sweet 16 matchup at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.
From their road trip to Stanford earlier in the season, to their matchups away from Thompson-Boling Arena against tough and athletic SEC teams, second-year head coach Holly Warlick believes her team is ready for what is about to ensue as her team continues to 'Grind For Nine'.
Tennessee this season is 12-2 in games played away from home, including a 9-2 mark against teams that made the NCAA Tournament this season.
"We've played some really tough games on the road and played well," said Warlick. "We tend to be a little more focused. We are battle-tested. We've put them through every situation they need to be in and that has helped us get to where we are now."
The Lady Terrapins (26-6) match up well with the Lady Vols (29-5) not only in their athleticism, but the in the rebounding category as well.
Both teams have been purely dominant on the boards this season and hardly ever have been outrebounded by opponents. Maryland will come into the bout ranked third in the nation in rebound margin (12.1) and averages 43.4 rebounds per game.
The Lady Vols in 34 contests this season rank second in Division-I basketball with 45.7 rebounds per game and are fourth in rebound margin, averaging 11.8 more boards per game than their opposition. They have only been out-rebounded twice all season.
"They are very well-coached," Warlick said. "They are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. It's going to be a battle of wills on the boards because I think both our team and Maryland are athletic and rely a lot on second-chance points."
Most of the season, the Lady Vols have outsized their opponents on paper and have used that to their advantage down in the paint. However, they won't be looking down at their opponent on the court this weekend, as both teams have six players that stand at 6-foot-2 or taller.
"They are a great team and they have good size and a great physicality to them," UT junior forward Isabelle Harrison said. "This week we've been watching them play and Dean (Lockwood) gave us personnel on each player. We are very familiar with their post. There's going to be a lot of crazy match ups on defense."
Maryland is not only a threat in the rebounding column, but they are also a strong force on offense led by three-time ACC Player of the Year, Alyssa Thomas.
In 32 games this season, they have scored over 85 points in a game on 16 different occasions and ranks ninth in the country averaging 82.9 points per contest.
This season, Thomas has led her team in scoring with 18.6 points per game on 51.1 percent shooting. She also leads her team in three other categories: rebounds (10.9), assists (4.3) and steals (1.5).
"I think (Alyssa) Thomas is one of the best players in the country," Warlick said. "I don't think one player can guard her the whole game, so we're going to mix it up and put different people on her."
The 6-foo-2 forward for Maryland is also expected to be one of the finalists for the women's basketball Naismith College Player of the Year.
"As a mixture of a guard and post and for her to be that big and be that mobile you don't see a lot of players like that," Harrison said. "She is a different type of player and we have to match her intensity and find ways to stop her."
The Lady Vols have only allowed two teams to score over 80 points on them all season, allowing only 62.6 points per game.
"You have to come with your 'A' game all the time," Warlick said. "I think when you are in the tournament your shooting percentage goes down and you have to rely on second chance points. Defense is going to be a major key for us. The games that were close that we've pulled away in late have been because we played great defense."
The game will be aired on ESPN as the two teams will battle for a chance to advance to the Elite Eight to play the winner of the LSU-Louisville game on Tuesday night.