Darby MSU

No. 21 Tess Darby shoots a 3-pointer against Mississippi State at Thompson-Boling Arena. Thursday Jan. 5, 2023.

The last time the Lady Vols went to College Station, Texas, the trip did not go as planned. On top of suffering a 70-80 loss, historic snowstorms led to the collapse of Texas’ power grid and stranded Tennessee in Texas. 

 

The Lady Vols (12-6, 4-0) are forecasted to be without snow this time around. 

 

“It was memorable,” head coach Kellie Harper said of the 2021 trip to Texas. “It was one of the stories that anyone involved is going to be telling for a long time.”

 

Tennessee isn’t immune to travel issues in 2023. Due to construction at the College Station airport, the Lady Vols will have to fly into Houston and bus to Texas A&M. 

 

The 9 p.m. ET tip-off on Thursday in the Lonestar State will put the Lady Vols returning to East Tennessee early Friday morning. It is also paramount for Harper to keep her squad focused ahead of the SEC Network nightcap. 

 

“We’ll try to shorten the day,” Harper said. “We’ll break it up. We’ll have shoot around and film in the middle of the day so it’s not such a long time sitting around. They’ll be fine, it is past my bedtime when we tip.”

 

The Aggies (5-9, 0-4) have been struggling this season. With only eight active players and a new head coach, Texas A&M is trying to piece together its season right now. 

 

Despite being down, Thursday is still an SEC opponent that the Lady Vols can’t overlook. 

 

“There’s a lot of human nature in that, but as athletes and as a team that’s trying to be the best we can be, you can’t (overlook opponents),” Harper said. “As soon as you relax, they get hot, they get happy, they find a win. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to be motivated, they’re going to be physical. We have to be ready.”

 

Tennessee has found itself on a hot streak after starting SEC play undefeated. Looking around the SEC, LSU, South Carolina and Ole Miss also remain undefeated. The Lady Vols have climbed their way back into the NCAA tournament conversation. 

 

In ESPN’s most recent bracketology, the Lady Vols are projected to be a No. 8 seed in Ohio State’s region. Tennessee has consistently risen in every ESPN Bracketology. 

 

Offensively, the Lady Vols sit atop the SEC. Tennessee ranks No.1 in offense, averaging 82.5 points per game. The Lady Vols also are No.1 in shooting percentage, hitting 48% of their shots. 

 

Defense has been a different story for Tennessee. The Lady Vols are No. 11 in scoring defense, giving up just over 70 points per game. 

 

“We shared those conference stats with our players yesterday, talking very honestly about where we are and where we need to be and where we’ve got to grow,” Harper said. “We tried to instill the urgency and learn from it after a win – don’t wait until a loss, learn from it after a win. You can’t continue to win at that level.”

 

Luckily for Tennessee, the Aggies average under 40 points in SEC play. Texas A&M has faced tough competition in the likes of LSU, Ole Miss and South Carolina. 

 

The Lady Vols have struggled in the second half on the defensive end, but their offense has carried them through. On Thursday, Tennessee can’t let Texas A&M have any life in what could become a trap game in the Lonestar State. 

 

“We’ve given up too many points in the second half,” Harper said. “Our team has found ways to continue to score during that drought defensively. For us, we’ve got to continue to make sure we’re sharp, find ways to score to keep ourselves in those games where we’re not producing on the defensive end.”

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