The No. 16 Tennessee women’s basketball team will continue its three-game road trip this Sunday, as it heads to College Station for a matchup with No. 6 Texas A&M.
The Lady Vols own a 12-4 (6-2 SEC) record, and are coming off a 71-56 loss to No. 20 Kentucky, the largest margin of defeat they have suffered this season.
Tennessee was without its team captain and Wooden Midseason pick Rennia Davis, who did not make the trip to Lexington due to COVID-19 protocols.
In Davis’ absence, the Lady Vols looked lost on offense. Junior Rae Burrell dropped 22 points to lead the team, and sophomore Jordon Horston turned in 11 points, but no one else could figure out Kentucky’s defense.
Tennessee’s hottest player going into the game was sophomore Tamari Key, who had put up a triple-double (23 points, 10 rebounds, 10 blocks) in Tennessee’s game versus Florida before the pause. She was held to nine points and six rebounds, and fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a big blow to not have (Davis) out there, for sure,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said after the game. “Especially what she was able to do in this game in Thompson-Boling Area. We were missing quite a few points and boards without her being out there. And just some steady confidence in that player.”
Kentucky’s defense was too much for the Lady Vols. Tennessee shot 35.5% from the field and 27.3% from three-point range, both well under its season average of 45.7% and 30.7%, respectively.
Normally a 70% team from the charity stripe entering the night, Tennessee made just nine of 18 attempts from the free throw line.
Texas A&M (18-1, 9-1 SEC) on the other hand, enters the matchup on a six-game winning streak, with its last loss coming a month ago in overtime at LSU.
The Aggies present a balanced offensive attack, with a quartet of seniors averaging double figure points. Aaliyah Wilson leads the group with 13.3 points per game. N'dea Jones, who was named to the Naismith Midseason Team, is second with 12.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Ciera Johnson averages 11.3 points per game and Kayla Wells rounds out the group with 11.1 points.
Sophomore Jordan Nixon is averaging 8.4 points per game, and those five players have started all 19 games for the Aggies this season.
“They have great balance on the court scoring and great athleticism on the defensive end whether they're in man or zone,” Harper said. “So, I think just their personnel, period, is the biggest challenge.”
Texas A&M scores points at a high level, 76.3 points per game at 48.2%, but also plays great defense, holding its opponents to 59.8 points and 38.2% from the field.
A group as experienced and dominating on both ends of the court that the Aggies will run out will certainly be a challenge for a Lady Vols team plagued by injuries.
After Thursday’s game, Harper expected Davis to be available for Sunday, but likely not for the whole forty minutes, as she is eased back into playing time.
Graduate transfer Jordan Walker, who started in Davis’ place Thursday, has largely struggled in a bench role this year, averaging 18.8 minutes and 5.3 points per game. She will have a crucial role in Tennessee’s success against the Aggies if Davis is in fact limited, or even unavailable.
“This is a thing with our team, whenever we have a game where we don’t play our best, or we come out on the other side with a dub that night, we always bounce back ten times better,” Walker said. “And so I know that tomorrow’s practice is going to be better, Sunday’s game is going to be better. So I’m just excited for that.”
This meeting was originally scheduled as both team’s SEC opener on Dec. 31, but was postponed to Feb. 7 when Tennessee had COVID-19 complications. The Feb. 7 game was again rescheduled, when the Lady Vols had another positive test, and the game was pushed back to this Sunday.
Tip off for this Valentine’s Day matchup is set for 3 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.