The eyes of Texas, and the rest of the country, will be on the ninth-ranked Tennessee women’s basketball team on Sunday.
The Lady Vols (7-0) are set for another edition of one of women’s college hoops’ great rivalries when they travel to Austin to take on the No. 12 Texas Longhorns (7-1) at the Erwin Center for a top-15, nationally broadcast showdown on Sunday.
The two teams met last season in Knoxville, which resulted in a 82-75 Tennessee win over the then No. 2 Longhorns.
Sunday’s contest will mark the 40th meeting between the two historic programs, with the Lady Vols holding a 24-15 edge in the series.
“Texas is good,” head coach Holly Warlick said. “They’re very athletic. We always have a pretty tough game with them. I think we’re two similar teams. It’ll be a challenge. They’ll be ready to play us. I expect it to be a great game.”
For Tennessee, the Lady Vols will be hitting the road for the fourth time in their last five games, having played against another Big 12 opponent in Oklahoma State on their floor in a game they needed to pull away late in to remain undefeated.
For Warlick, having that road-game experience for such a young team should serve them well when they face the Longhorns.
“I think (playing) Oklahoma State did help us prepare,” Warlick said. “They’re physical, they run, they probably shoot the three more than Texas does. We’ve got some experience on the road, now.”
While Tennessee’s four freshmen will be facing Texas for the first time, six players will be seeing them for the second-straight season. According to sophomore guard Evina Westbrook, who is coming off of a 20-point performance in a win over Stetson on Wednesday and averaging 15.7 points a game, both teams are different this time around.
“We’ve got to be ready to come in and play on Sunday,” Westbrook said. “They’re pretty much a different team than we played last year and we’re a totally different team than we were last year. We’ve just got to come in with a lot of energy.
“They’re strong, they rebound like crazy. There is going to be an emphasis on not allowing them to get second chances like they do against other teams.”
While undefeated, the road hasn’t been an easy one for Tennessee as of late. After trailing at halftime in three straight games versus Clemson, UAB and Oklahoma State, the Lady Vols again found themselves on the rope last week, falling behind by as much as twenty in the second half against Stetson before using a big run to pull out a 65-55 win.
Though seemingly winning by scores that are a little too close for comfort for Warlick, she believes such games will prepare her team for games against teams like Texas, Stanford, Notre Dame and an unforgiving SEC slate.
“There’s always a teaching moment,” Warlick said. “It’s a forty minute game. They have a fight in them and they don’t seem to quit. We’re a great team and we’re going to fight. That’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
As for Texas, the Longhorns started the 2018-19 season just outside of the top-10 at No. 12, only one spot behind Tennessee. By week 3, they had earned a top-10 billing, but a 67-49 loss at home to No. 6 Mississippi State last week sent them back to where they started the season.
Thus far, Texas has struggled on the injury front, losing a big-time contributor Lashaan Higgs to a season-ending injury earlier this season. At the time, Higgs was leading the team in scoring with over 13-points per game. However, guard/forward Joyner Holmes, who suffered an ankle injury in the preseason that has kept her sidelined through the first 8 games, is expected to return against Tennessee on Sunday.
Holmes was the No. 1 player in the 2016 recruiting class and averaged over 17-points last season. But according to Warlick, with or without Holmes, the Longhorns will present difficulties.
“Texas has been hit by some injuries,” Warlick said. “They’re very strong and they’ve got experience. Joyner Holmes is back, which will bring them another dimension. It’s going to be a typical battle between a Tennessee team and a Texas team.”