This NCAA women’s basketball season has been comparable to a rollercoaster, and the Tennessee women’s basketball team has been at the front of the ride almost the entire time. After starting the season at 10-1 — the peak — the team rapidly went into its first drop, losing six games in a row.
But like the famous amusement park mainstay, the Lady Vols appear to be ascending once more. Since that skid, they have gone 5-1 in the last six games, coming off of a big win against the Missouri Tigers in Columbia.
“These kids have been tested,” head coach Holly Warlick said after the win. “They’ve been called out. They’ve been put through the grind. Our defense is so much better. We’ve got talent. But at that stretch, talent wasn’t playing hard, and talent wasn’t getting it done.”
Now, with momentum back in their corner, they will hit the road for their fourth road game in the past five contests to face the 21st ranked Texas A&M Aggies, the team that currently occupies fourth place in the SEC standings.
The two teams have met only 12 times since the first matchup in 1997. Tennessee has won eight of those games, with all four losses in the series at the hands of current Aggies head coach Gary Blair.
The Lady Vols are 1-2 all time in College Station, losing two straight while on the road. The two teams met twice last year, splitting wins in each game. The team that Tennessee will see this year is entirely different, however.
Texas A&M returns just one starter from the 2017-18 squad, but that one starter happens to be one of the best players in the nation. Chennedy Carter, now in her sophomore season, resumed her role as a starting guard for her team.
Last season, she was named the unanimous National Freshman of the Year and made various All-American teams. She averaged 22.7 points per game and set the single game Aggie record in scoring with 46 points against Southern California.
This year, she leads all scorers in the SEC with 22.1 points per game. She has scored above 20 points in nine of the last 11 games.
“She can shoot the long-range three,” Warlick said. “She can get to the basket. She’s really crafty in going side-to-side and going forward. We just can’t foul her, we can’t give her uncontested shots, we can’t put her at the free throw line.”
Though Carter is the primary threat, the Aggies boast a very versatile offensive attack. Three other players average in double-digits in the scoring category. Though they only score around 69 points per game, they hit on around 42 percent of their shots, the sixth best mark in the conference.
Their defense only allows opponents 59 points per game on 36 percent shooting. Texas A&M also forces an average of 14 turnovers per game.
With the schedule winding down, the Lady Vols understand that every win — and loss — matters just a little bit more than normal. Currently in seventh place in the SEC, they’re still not out of contention for a finish in the top four, affording them a bye in the first two rounds of the SEC Tournament.
Tennessee is still fighting for a spot in the NCAA Tournament, as well, listed most recently as one of the “last four teams in” by ESPN’s Charlie Creme.
“We’re just staying together and understanding that we have to win these next few games,” Rennia Davis said after the Auburn win. “But also not putting that pressure on ourselves, just coming out there and being able to play.”
Tip off is slated for 9:02 p.m. on Thursday night, with the game being broadcast on the SEC Network.