The Missouri women’s basketball team (19-7, 8-4 SEC) is one of the hottest teams in the entire nation. The Tigers have won four of their last five, including a 75-67 victory over No. 5 Mississippi State on Thursday in Starkville.
On the other hand, the Tennessee women’s basketball team (16-8, 5-6 SEC) has been one of the most streaky teams in the entire nation this season. These two teams have faced each other already this year, in Knoxville, with Missouri gaining a tight 66-64 victory.
This time, the Lady Vols will travel to Columbia, Mo. on Sunday to face the Tigers once more.
“It’s a tough environment, they’re coming off of a great win,” head coach Holly Warlick said. “They’ve beaten us, and so we’ve got a lot of incentive.”
The last time Tennessee lost to the same team twice in the same season was in the 2016-17 season, where they got swept by Alabama. The key to avoiding the same situation against the Tigers will be stopping the three ball.
Tennessee’s defense has allowed too many threes at times this season. On average, opponents are able to hit about six three-pointers per game, a weakness that Missouri exploited well in the prior matchup.
It was able to hit 10 total three-point shots out of 22 attempts, accounting for just under half of the total 66 points scored. Two players, Sophie Cunningham and Lauren Aldridge, hit three threes. Aldridge was a perfect 100 percent from beyond the arc.
Haley Troup added four of her own.
Stopping those shots is something that Warlick knows her team has to do if it wants to win.
“We gave them 10 three-pointers, and that can’t happen,” Warlick said. “You cannot give up three-point shots against Missouri. If you do, then your chances of winning the game are not going to be good.”
Cunningham has seemingly been a spark plug against Tennessee in her career with Missouri. In the last showdown, she had 20 points to lead both teams. In the past three games between the two teams, she has averaged 22 points per game.
Last year, she dropped 32 points in Missouri’s 77-73 win on February 18. Facing Cunningham might be a personal task for the Lady Vols as well, as she caused some fuss in the last game with an incident in the post-game handshake line.
“I think she just plays her own way,” Rennia Davis said after the loss to Missouri. “We know she plays physical, she plays hard every possession. I wouldn’t really say dirty, but she has her own way of playing.”
With just five games left on the schedule until the regular season ends, every game has an added air of importance. In addition, Tennessee is one of four SEC teams that have a conference record of 5-6.
The Lady Vols still have a shot at a top four seed in the conference, if they close the season strong. They’re just a few games behind the fourth spot, currently held by the Tigers. Looking past the SEC Tournament, Tennessee is still considered a team on the bubble when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.
The importance of a win against Missouri cannot be understated, and this is something the team understands.
“We have to win these next few games,” Davis said. “But also not add pressure on ourselves. Just go out there and just play.”
Tip-off is slated for 4:02 p.m., and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.