No. 10 ranked Tennessee completes its two-game home stand on Thursday at 7 p.m. against Ole Miss (11-8, 1-5), who has lost four of its last five games. The Rebels snapped a 28-game losing streak to the Lady Vols last season when they beat Tennessee 67-62 in Oxford. The Lady Vols loss to the Rebels was their first against them since the 1996 season, when No. 3 Tennessee fell to No. 20 Ole Miss by a score of 78-72.
The Rebels are not playing the hottest basketball right now, as they have lost three straight games and seven of their last 10 games. Ole Miss last win came on Jan. 7 over Florida, when they beat the Gators 78-75 in double-overtime. However, the Rebels didn’t have good such fortune against Florida on Sunday, when they lost a close 61-60 matchup with the Gators.
Ole Miss was out-scored 18-4 in the final quarter, as Florida out-rebounded the Rebels by an astounding 43-24 margin. This included allowing 13 offensive rebounds for the Gators, as Haley Lorenzen of Florida ended the game with a layup and a game-saving block with three seconds remaining. Ole Miss still had four player with double-digit points in the win: Shelby Gibson (10), Madinah Muhammed (12), Promise Taylor (12) and Alissa Alston (17).
Muhammad has proven to be one of the most dangerous guards in the SEC, as she ranks seventh in the conference in scoring, having scored just over 17 points per game. The only other Rebels player averaging over 10 points a game is Alston, who averages nearly 15 points per game.
Head coach Holly Warlick and the Lady Vols are fresh off one of the toughest four-game stretches in all of women’s basketball this season. However, Tennessee did not fare well in its last two appearances against top 5 ranked teams. After falling to fifth-ranked Notre Dame in South Bend 84-70, the Lady Vols were unable to upset No. 3 Mississippi State at home on Sunday.
“It has been a tough stretch,” Warlick said. “These kids are resilient and we needed to get back on the practice floor. We had a great practice yesterday.”
In Sunday’s game, Tennessee was held to just 36 percent shooting from the field and was 0-of-8 from 3-point range. The biggest stat line was the Bulldogs ability to out-rebound the Vols 44-33, including 17 offensive rebounds. The orange-and-white allowed four Mississippi State players to rack up over 10 points, including Victoria Vivians, who scored 24 points.
With seniors Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell in the post, Tennessee should never be out-rebounded, and they can’t afford to. One major factor in this contest will be improved guard play for the Lady Vols. Tennessee simply can’t let Alston and Muhammed run rampant on them like Vivians and Roshunda Johnson did last game.
The freshmen guard tandem of Rennia Davis and Evina Westbrook will need to play much better defensively in this contest, as well as the rest of the team. Turnovers could play a major factor in this game, as the Lady Vols have struggled to hold on to the ball at times this season. Warlick mainly blames the frequent turnovers on “a combination of forcing the issue and freshmen mistakes.”
“Overall, we’ve played hard. I’m not down on this team at all,” Warlick said. “We’ve had a couple of bumps, but we’re going to get them straightened out.”
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics