Two seasons ago, an unranked Tennessee women’s basketball team walked into Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville and knocked off then-No. 2 Mississippi State.
While the 2018-19 version of the Lady Vols (15-7, 4-5 SEC), again unranked, will be looking to repeat history on that same floor, the exploits of the past will be far from their minds.
According to head coach Holly Warlick, no stage and no team should seem too big for a young Tennessee team that has already cut their teeth playing in some tough road venues against some of women’s college basketball’s elite, and the sixth-ranked Bulldogs (21-1, 9-0 SEC) will be no different.
“We’ve played in some pretty hostile environments,” Warlick said. “I don’t think that this one that is any different. We seem to focus more on the road. They’re young. You just hope they come out and bring us what you need.”
The last couple of weeks have done wonders for the Lady Vols where confidence is concerned, and Mississippi State presents an opportunity to show that they’ve put previous struggles behind them.
After dropping five-straight, Tennessee has come out on the winning end of three consecutive games versus LSU, Florida and Vanderbilt, and that confidence has come not come a moment too soon, as the Lady Vols prepare to embark on their toughest conference game yet.
“Our young ladies understand what we need to do,” Warlick said. “Again, we need to limit our turnovers, take great shots and keep them off the boards. We’ve got to rebound. I think they understand our game plan and their focus. I’m excited to get the opportunity to play (Mississippi State).”
If one was looking for a reason as to why Tennessee has been so successful as of late, they should look no further than the stat book. In their last three games, the Lady Vols have tallied more assists than turnovers, and Warlick would like to continue that trend against a strong defensive Mississippi State team.
“The turnovers just take away opportunities that we have to score points,” Warlick said. “We talk a lot about it. You’ve got to have opportunities to score and when you turn the ball over, you’re not going to do that. If we turn the ball over against Mississippi State, they’re going to shoot layups.
“We can’t let them do that. We are going to have to make them work for everything that they get.”
Beyond limiting and avoiding mistakes such as turnovers, the Lady Vols are also going to need continued success out of sophomore guard Rennia Davis.
Davis struggled to put points on the board during Tennessee’s five-game skid, but has since been a crucial element during its recent run. In each of the last three outings, Davis has contributed 17 points or more.
“Rennia (Davis) is tough on herself,” Warlick said. “When she is hard on herself, it doesn’t make matters good for her. I think she refocused her mind to where she is focusing on things she can control. She’s playing hard, getting rebounds, getting stops on defense. She has gotten herself into good position to take great shots.”
Coming off of a solid defensive performance at Vanderbilt, the Lady Vols will be tasked to slow down a Mississippi State offense that currently ranks first in the league in points per game (more than 88-percent) and is led by center Teaira McCowan.
McCowan is in the top five of nearly every offensive category in the SEC, including field goal percentage, rebounds per game and points per game.
“For us, it’s keeping a body on her,” Warlick said about how to slow down McCowan. “We have to try and limit her touches, especially second chance points. She is an unbelievable offensive rebounder.”
Tennessee will look to slow down McCowan and the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Sunday, beginning at 2:00 p.m. on ESPN.