Looking to extend a six-game winning streak, the Tennessee women’s basketball team will host Georgia Thursday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Vols own an 8-1 (2-0 SEC) record on the year, while the Bulldogs enter the matchup with a 10-1 (2-1 SEC) mark.
Last time out
In its last game, Tennessee survived a back-and-forth affair at LSU, narrowly winning 64-63. In a game that featured eight lead changes, neither team could pull ahead for long before the other came storming back.
Ultimately, the game came down to the last possession. In the final minute, ahead by one, Tennessee missed several opportunities to ice the game. Graduate transfer Jordan Walker and senior Kasiyahna Kushkituah missed two free throws each, and junior Rae Burrell missed a layup. LSU had the ball for the final possession, but missed a layup, and the Lady Vols survived.
“Well, I was reminded numerous times that it has been a few years since Tennessee has won at LSU,” head coach Kellie Harper said after the game. “But you also come down here and know that this is a really good basketball team that we are playing against. It is a hard game to play, their style is unique and it can be a grind for the opposing teams. Before the game, our staff talked about coming out here with a one-point win, we would be happy. It is just that tough in the SEC to get those wins.”
The Lady Vols were led in scoring by Burrell, who finished with 18 points and three rebounds. That marked her sixth time this season as Tennessee’s leading scorer. Sophomore Tamari Key put up a season-high 12 points and six rebounds, and sophomore Jordan Horston also reached double figures with 11 points.
Finally in the rankings
For the first time this season, the Lady Vols are a top-25 team. Tennessee debuted at No. 23 in the AP Top 25 ranking that was released Monday. It extended an unbelievable streak in which Tennessee has appeared in the rankings every season since the AP Poll began in 1976-77.
"Well, that's where we belong,” Harper said on her team entering the poll. “This program is a program of excellence, and I think the bar is set really high here. The expectation is that's where we are. Our name on that list is important.”
The Lady Vols’ spot in the poll can largely be attributed to a pair of wins against top-15 opponents, against then No. 15 Indiana and then No. 13 Arkansas.
Back in December, UT upset Indiana in Bloomington, 66-58. Three Lady Vols reached double figure scoring that night. Senior Rennia Davis had her first great game of the season, finishing with a double-double of 19 points and 15 rebounds. Burrell put up 18 points and two rebounds, and Horston tallied 13 points, six rebounds, six assists.
Last Thursday, in their first game since being shut down due to a COVID outbreak, the Lady Vols took down Arkansas in a dominating fashion. Davis and Burrell each scored 26 points, as Tennessee won by a score of 88-73. Davis also totaled 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals, and Burrell added five rebounds, an assist and two steals.
Additionally, Tennessee finished at No. 24 in the ESPN Coaches Poll.
“I think our program still resonates strongly nationally and having that name in that poll only reiterates that,” Harper said.
Scouting the Bulldogs
Though Georgia is not a ranked opponent, it will still present a challenge for Tennessee. The Bulldogs come to Knoxville with a 10-1 record, having lost only their SEC opener against then No. 12 Mississippi State.
In a recent media availability, Harper said that despite the advantage her team would seem to have, the most important thing the Lady Vols need to do is not treat the game like a free win, and execute their game plan.
“If we walk on to the court, and think we’re going to win just because we’re wearing an orange jersey, or because they’re not ranked, it won’t happen, it won’t,” Harper said. “So our mindset is the first thing we have to do. We have to go in and understand that this is a really good basketball team.”
The Bulldogs are led in scoring by redshirt senior center Jenna Staiti, who is averaging 15.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, shooting 54% from the field. Senior guard Gabby Connolly also averages double figures for Georgia, with 10.1 points per game.
"For (Georgia), the interesting thing is they got some dynamic and quick guards on the perimeter that we're going to have to guard,” Harper said. “If we don't guard them, it is going to give their post players more opportunities. We've got to start with our one-on-one defense, and we have got to be able to guard a little bit better so we are not having to rotate and move around.”
In their previous game, the Bulldogs beat Florida 68-58, battling back from an early deficit. Staiti tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds, good for her fifth double-double of the season. She has scored in double figures in 19 of the last 20 games. Senior Maya Caldwell was second in scoring with eleven points.
Tennessee leads the all-time series with Georgia, 52-17. The Lady Vols picked up a 73-56 win in Knoxville last January, the most recent meeting between these two teams.
Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on SEC Network.