In 2011, ESPN’s College Gameday made its way down to Rocky Top to do a special double-header broadcast for both Tennessee’s men’s and women’s basketball teams versus Vanderbilt.
That was the last time College Gameday featured a women’s basketball game, until Sunday.
Along with College Gameday, ABC will do its second ever broadcast of a women’s college basketball game, after producing its first with UConn versus UCLA back in December.
The Lady Vols enter the matchup with No. 1 South Carolina battered and bruised up, after their fourth straight road loss against Alabama on Thursday night.
The Crimson Tide took full control of the ball once they unleashed a 7-for-11 shooting spree from three point range in the second and third quarter to give them a 20-point lead, before winning 74-64.
Prior to Tennessee’s recent stretch of road games, UT was 6-0 in road games, but now sits 6-4 in the midst of its four game road losing streak.
Since Keyen Green’s season ending ACL injury, UT is now 3-4 in her absence.
To make matters worse, the Lady Vols’ leader in points, rebounds, assists and steals, Jordan Horston, had to exit the Alabama game in the fourth period, after diving after a loose ball and injuring her arm.
Horston left the floor in an arm cast and did not return for the remainder of the game.
“With the update on Jordan, it’s a fractured dislocation of the elbow (left), and she will be out a few weeks for sure,” head coach Kellie Harper said. “And I don’t know how many weeks that will be, because the most important thing for us right now is to make sure that her injury has time to heal. And unfortunately, you can’t put a timeline on that.”
“You know, we’ll have to see the progress, and we will monitor it frequently in the next month, but at this point, I think you’re really pushing it with the season winding down, but I suppose at this point the door would still be open (to return).”
The Lady Vols now have to somehow find a way to regroup and gear up No. 1 ranked South Carolina.
The Gamecocks are the perennial top team in the country, sitting at No. 1 in both the coaches and AP poll.
South Carolina is led by highly regarded forward Aliyah Boston, averaging 16.8 points per and 11.9 rebounds a game. She recorded her 18th straight double-double in the demolishing of Auburn, 75-37, on Thursday night.
Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson also carry the Gamecocks, each averaging 11 points a game.
South Carolina has reeled off 12 straight wins since falling to Missouri in December.
Outside of the Missouri contest, South Carolina is winning contests by a margin of +20.4, including winning SEC games by +19.8. The Gamecocks also lead the country in rebounding margin (+14.6), blocked shots (148) and blocks per game (5.7).
Dawn Staley is in her 14th season at the helm of the Gamecocks, and has taken them to the Final Four three times in the last six NCAA Tournaments, including a national title win in 2017.
“It’s a huge challenge, obviously. I think that’s an understatement,” Harper said. “First, you talk about what they do offensively. They play their parts. They know their roles, and they play their roles. They do a great job of doing what they do well, whether that’s getting the ball inside, putting the ball on the floor, taking open shots. They know how to have patience and find what they’re looking for. And then, if they miss, they are amazing on the offensive boards. They just really get to the glass, consistently, relentlessly, and really get a lot of their points and a lot of their production by crashing the boards.”
“We know it’s a challenge. Obviously, we get that. Like you said, anytime you play South Carolina it’s going to be a challenge.”
Despite everything stacked against them, don’t count out the Lady Vols. Even with the recent struggles, Harper and company will have her squad motivated and ready to take on the Gamecocks.
Tamari Key has a tough matchup versus Boston, but Key is coming off a season-high 20 points and grabbing 11 boards versus Alabama.
Rae Burrell eclipsed the 1,000-point mark in her career wearing the Orange and White, after dropping 13 points against the Tide.
Look for both Key and Burrell to pick up the slack left by Horston on Sunday at 1 p.m. EST in Columbia, South Carolina.
“I think you’ve got to be able to play through adversity,” Harper said. “I think you’ve got to be able to make the next plays. So, if something goes wrong, you can’t let that snowball into three wrongs. You’ve got to correct it, and you’ve got to make a play."
"I think that is going to be as important as anything, early on just hanging in there and finding some positive plays. Because then, if you do that, you can settle down, and I think that’s going to be really important early on.”