The Lady Vols have established themselves as a tournament team. Now, it’s just a matter of where Tennessee lands.
Tennessee (18-9, 10-2 SEC) will have a chance to bolster its resume on Thursday night against Arkansas (19-8, 6-6 SEC) in Bud Walton Arena.
Before a loss to Mississippi State on the road, the Lady Vols were looking to sneak into the conversation to host the first two rounds of the tournament. While that seems more unlikely now, Tennessee still sits near the top of the NET rankings.
Tennessee is No. 18 in the NET, which is a system used to project tournament seeding. Arkansas sits at No. 38 in the NET and will be the 15th team the Lady Vols have faced in the top 50.
The NCAA released its top 16 seeds before the Lady Vols played Vanderbilt, but Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper is not worried about the postseason yet.
“I know it came out,” Harper said. “I know where a few teams are, but I literally haven’t even pulled it up. I’m in my own little world right now, which is the Lady Vols’ world. I’m basically focused on our practice, basically focused on our team, what our team needs to do.”
In ESPN’s bracketology, the Lady Vols sit as a No. 7 seed in the Durham region. There is definitely some room for Tennessee to rise in the seedings. They can start that rise on Thursday.
“When you do what you’re supposed to, when you take care of business, all the other stuff takes care of itself,” Harper added. “I think that’s what we have to worry about. We’ve got to worry about what we can control. We talk about that as a team. Control the controllables, take care of what you can take care of and the rest will come.”
Jordan Horston is a player who Tennessee needs if it hopes to find success down the stretch. When she plays to her best, the Lady Vols are at their best.
“She's so competitive,” Harper said. “She wants it so bad, and she wants to do her part. Sometimes, she can rush some things. When she settles in and plays with confidence, it looks good. She's been practicing well.”
Horston was at her best against Vanderbilt on Sunday and finished 8-for-13 with 18 points and nine rebounds. Her athleticism, length at 6-foot-2 and leadership make her a cornerstone for Tennessee.
For the Lady Vols to succeed, the projected first-round pick will need to shine down the stretch.
“We are at our best when she is stuffing the stats, and it does not have to be points,” Harper said. “Her effect on the game in every other column is so valuable to our team, whether that's assists, steals, or boards or blocked shots. She can do so many things.”
To pair with Horston, Rickea Jackson has reentered the starting lineup for Tennessee. Jackson, who is also projected to be drafted early in the first round, brings a dynamic to the floor that makes the Lady Vols nearly unstoppable.
Jackson has scored over 20 points in seven of 12 SEC games, as well as 10 games total on the season. As the Lady Vols close out the season, beginning at Arkansas on Thursday, Jackson will also be crucial for Tennessee’s success.
“I thought we were playing downhill and being aggressive,” Harper said. “I thought we had (Jackson and Horston) where we needed them within the offense. They're such a handful to guard, each of them individually. With them playing well together, it just makes it harder on the opponent.”
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