As the Lady Vols head into the SEC Tournament this week, a slew of questions floats around the team.
Which Lady Vols team will show up in Jacksonville?
Will it be the Lady Vols that lost two straight games to LSU and Alabama — teams that have a combined seven conference wins? Or will it be the Lady Vols that beat No. 7 Oregon State 53-50 on the road in December and crushed the conference’s fourth place Georgia Lady Bulldogs 80-60 on Sunday?
Will the team even make the NCAA Tournament?
All questions that won’t be known until later this week.
With the Lady Vols’ season being so up and down, Georgia head coach Joni Taylor admitted after the game that the Lady Bulldogs (21-8, 9-7 SEC) prepared for the Lady Vols team that played well this year and not the team that struggled against LSU and Alabama.
“We were fully prepared for them to look the way they did today,” Taylor said. “Tennessee’s an extremely talented team.”
Dancing solo?: Whatever beast decides to show its face in Florida this week, the team’s season overall has been the worst season record-wise in franchise history. Tennessee’s 12 losses are not only its combined number of losses over the past two seasons, but also are the most losses in a single season in program history.
Even the team’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament isn’t punched yet, as head coach Holly Warlick’s squad remains on the bubble for the Big Dance.
It’s hard to imagine a Lady Vol-less NCAA Tournament – mainly because it’s never happened. Since 1982, when the tournament began, Tennessee has been in every single NCAA Tournament. What’s even more impress is the fact that the lowest seed the Lady Vols ever earned is a No. 5 seed in 2009.
As of this weekend, many bracketology experts have the Lady Vols squeezing into an eight or a nine seed in the Big Dance. This is thanks to the team’s four wins over top-50 schools and the No. 1 strength of schedule in women’s basketball.
But a slip-up in the SEC Tournament could boot the team right out of the tournament and into the danger zone.
Warlick, though, remained ever vigilant after the team’s win on Sunday, admitting that she thinks her team is good enough to be a part of the NCAA Tournament in two weeks.
“I coach a team that I know have a lot left in us,” Warlick said. “Our focus is going to be the SEC Tournament and whoever we play on Thursday.”
Starting five shakeup: To go along with their 12 losses, the Lady Vols (17-12, 8-8) have used 12 different starting lineups this year. Sunday’s starting five didn’t feature Te’a Cooper or Andraya Carter. One, if not both, of these ladies have been in every lineup this season.
The team’s fifth different lineup has shown to be the most used this year. The five consist of Bashaara Graves, Jaime Nared, Mercedes Russell, Carter and Diamond DeShields. The Lady Vols are 3-5 this season when using that lineup.
DeShields saw her first start since Jan. 25 on Sunday. DeShields is coming off a loss against Alabama where she scored zero points on 0-7 shooting.
Warlick explained that the team “needed a change” on Sunday.
“We all had an awful game against Alabama, but (DeShields) had two solid, solid practices,” Warlick said. “I talk a lot about people who practice hard, and she practiced hard the last two days. I feel that she needed that opportunity, and I think starting helped her get going early.
The team’s ninth different lineup of Nared, Russell, Jordan Reynolds, Cooper and Carter has the best record at 3-1.
Up Next: The Lady Vols clinched the No. 7 seed in the SEC Tournament after Auburn lost to Florida on Sunday.
Therefore, the Lady Vols will go up against Arkansas on Thursday at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
The Lady Vols went 1-1 against Arkansas this year, winning in Knoxville 75-57 on Feb. 4 and losing in Fayetteville 64-59 on Jan. 14.