The sixth-ranked ranked Lady Vols (16-2, 4-1 SEC) will host No. 3 Mississippi State (19-0, 5-0) at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday afternoon. This will be the final game of Tennessee’s four-game stretch against ranked opponents. The Lady Vols have now faced three of four teams that made trips to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament last season. The last time the Lady Vols beat two top-three teams in the nation was the 2004-05 season.
Tennessee has a dominant 37-3 record in its series with the Bulldogs, but the Lady Vols win in Starkville last year snapped a three-game losing streak for Tennessee against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have been ranked higher than the Vols in each of their last five games against Tennessee. In the Lady Vols last meeting with Mississippi State, they smacked the NCAA Tournament runner-ups 82-64 in Starkville.
The Lady Vols are fresh off one of their ugliest losses under head coach Holly Warlick, as they fell to No. 5 Notre Dame 84-70. The biggest storyline in this matchup was the Lady Vols 28 turnovers on the night.
Despite shooting 57 percent from the field and having five players in double-digits, the turnovers proved too much and resulted in a loss. Tennessee struggled to shut down the Irish’s guard duo of Jackie Young and Arike Ogunbowale, who combined for 47 points and 13 rebounds in the win. The Lady Vols had five players who tallied three or more turnovers in the loss, and also shot just 47-percent from the free throw line.
The Bulldogs and Tennessee both had similar starts to the season, but Mississippi State has remained undefeated. Only three of the Bulldogs 19 games have been decided by 10-points or less. In its last time out, Mississippi State hosted the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The Bulldogs featured three players with double-digit points in the 75-61 win in Humphrey Coliseum. Victoria Vivians (21), Teaira McCowan (19) and Roshunda Johnson (14) combined for 54 of Mississippi State’s 75 points on the night.
The key for the Bulldogs in the win was the Bulldogs 26 turnovers and out-rebounding of the Tide by a margin of 35-26. Alabama shot over 50 percent from the floor and nearly 80 percent from 3-point range, but were eventually gobbled up by its turnovers. This will be a stat to watch for as Tennessee has yet to find a way to limit its turnovers. Mississippi State could absolutely obliterate the Lady Vols if they cannot protect the ball.
Tennessee will have to rely on the strong post presence of seniors Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell to shut down McCowan and score points. However, improved guard play is the key to the Lady Vols winning this game. Freshmen Evina Westbrook and Rennia Davis will need to make valuable contributions for Tennessee to have a chance.
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics