If the Lady Vols are primed for a return to their winning ways, the Arkansas loss two weeks ago is the one they’d pinpoint as the game that changed them.
Following tough, back-to-back home losses to Arkansas and No. 1 Notre Dame, Tennessee finally found the formula to snap a six-game losing streak by topping the LSU Tigers, 74-65 on Sunday.
According to head coach Holly Warlick, the wheels were set in motion after the Lady Vols came up just short in the final seconds against the Razorbacks.
“We were so disappointed in the Arkansas game,” Warlick said. “Because I thought we did some really, really good things. It kind of lead us into here. Our kids have been more focused, they have been more receptive and they have been really together.”
Now, Tennessee will have the opportunity to prove that the win over the Tigers was no fluke and that it could serve as a springboard into a dominating run to close out the season — this time, against the struggling Florida Gators (5-15, 1-6 SEC).
“You get a win, and you’re ready to go,” Warlick said. “These kids, regardless of the streak, they never quit working. It took all of us. It took every single one of us. It took a great team effort, and we’ll definitely build on it.”
The Gators, who are in head coach Cameron Newbauer’s second season, are coming off of three straight losses, most recently at the hands of Arkansas on Sunday.
Florida currently sits at the very bottom of the latest SEC standings and has lost 14 of the last 15 meetings to the Lady Vols.
Despite the Gators’ struggles this season, one of the bright spots for Florida is guard Funda Nakkasoglu, who ranked among the top five in the league in points per game with an average of 16.7.
In their last outing against Arkansas, Nakkasoglu lead the team with 20 points and was 4-of-12 from beyond the arc.
Beyond the arc is actually where the Gators have excelled. They currently rank 4th in the conference in three-point field goal percentage, averaging more than 60 points per game in that category and making 144 of 481 so far this season.
Florida’s perimeter shooting will present more of a challenge for Tennessee than LSU did. The Tigers rank dead last among conference teams in three-point percentage.
In most of their losses this season, Tennessee has struggled to defend three-point shooting. While LSU shot more than 50 percent from three, they were only held to 7 total attempts. The Lady Vols’ defense should expect more from the Gators.
“There are a lot of things that we can get better at,” Warlick said following the loss to Arkansas. “But we had missed assignments, and Arkansas capitalized on them. It was the same thing we have done in past games. We have missed an assignment on what we had to do, and teams have capitalized on it.”
Florida’s interior game has not fared as well. The Gators are among the last in the SEC in field goal percentage, as well as rebounding — Something Tennessee hopes to take advantage of coming off of a solid performance from sophomore center Kasiyahna Kushkituah who has a career-high 14 points and 8 rebounds against LSU.
“She’s a presence inside,” Warlick said of Kushkituah. “It gives us a chance to get some easier looks. We need her to play. This game (LSU) got her back to where she was playing before she got her knee hurt. Mentally, this was a great game for her.”
Tennessee and Florida will tip-off at 7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday.