If anything can be said about the No. 9 Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team, it’s that they don’t shy away from facing elite competition, which is saying something when one considers the fact that they already play in the one of the premier conferences in women’s college hoops.
Over a week removed from notching a big road win at then-No. 12 Texas, the Lady Vols (8-0) will play host to the 8th-ranked Stanford Cardinal (7-1) on Tuesday at Thompson-Boling Arena, with another chance to prove that they’ve returned among college basketball’s elite.
The Cardinal are coming off of a marquee win themselves, in the form of a 68-63 win over No. 3 Baylor on Saturday.
“It is another really tough opponent for us,” Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. “They played Baylor really strong and really well. It is just a big game for both of us. It is big for us because it is good to just be back home. Stanford is always a huge game for us.”
With just four games remaining before the Lady Vols jump into SEC play on Jan. 3 at Auburn, Warlick is looking at this contest as another primer to prepare them for a daunting conference slate.
“We’ve got to reel in our turnovers a little bit,” Warlick said. “Continue to get our defense solid and we have to do that (Tuesday). Move the ball and not take quick shots. The next four games will be huge heading into the SEC. If we can just go in strong to the start of conference play, that will be huge for us.”
Tennessee will be taking on Stanford nearly a year to the day from beating the Cardinal, 83-71 out in Palo Alto, California, last season.
Despite that, Warlick sees a different Stanford team than the one they faced a year ago.
“They are more mature and playing really well together,” Warlick said. “It is a different offense they are running, so it is different. They are playing really well right now.”
From a schematic standpoint, the Cardinal should pose a challenge for Tennessee’s defense, thanks in part to their revamped style of play on the offensive end, which is led by point guard Kiana Williams.
Williams currently ranks among the top 25 in scoring and assists in the Pac 12.
“They’re spreading the floor out more, playing every position,” Warlick said. “They can score, they can play solid defense. They are getting good play from their point guard. (Kiana) Williams is playing really well and leading her team.
“They are just different and better at each position because they are older.”
If Williams is player the Lady Vols will have to look out for, you can bet that Stanford has Tennessee guard Meme Jackson in that same category.
Jackson is coming off of a career-high 33-point performance against Texas, and has in mind to match that showing in their top-10 showdown on Tuesday night.
“Just getting in extra work is building my confidence,” Jackson said. “Me and Dean (Lockwood) are in the gym about an hour before or after practice. That is helping me build my confidence, and my teammates know that and are giving me good looks.”
Based on her senior campaign thus far, Warlick believes that Jackson should maintain that confidence going forward.
“I think that she should be confident,” Warlick said. “She has been in the gym and had one of the best scoring games she has had at Tennessee. She has that ability. The only way to build confidence is putting the time in, and (she) has put that time in.”
On the injury front, the Lady Vols should be getting a boost in the paint from sophomore center Kasiyahna Kushkituah, who has been sidelined for the last three games and is expected to return just in time for Stanford.
“She is good to go,” Warlick said on Monday. “She has gradually been coming back in the last five days. I am not sure if she is at full speed yet, but it is just a comfort level for her.”
The Lady Vols and the Cardinal will tip off at 6:00 p.m., with gates opening at Thompson-Boling Arena an hour before. The game will also be broadcast on the SEC Network.