Florida (11-16, 3-11 SEC) plays host to the Lady Vols in Gainesville Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Tennessee won the last two meetings with the Gators, but the Lady Vols are currently on their first two-game losing streak in over a month. The Volunteers sit five games back from Mississippi State for the lead in the SEC, while Florida sits 11 games back.
Tennessee’s four-game winning streak finally snapped Feb. 15 in a 72-63 loss to Alabama in Knoxville. Just three days later, the Lady Vols fell to No. 13 Missouri 77-73. Tigers guard Sophie Cunningham exploded for 32 points.
Surprisingly, the Volunteers out-rebounded Missouri by a 30-28 margin and only committed 14 turnovers in the loss. Tennessee’s inability to get any other player than Jaime Nared or Mercedes Russell involved in the offense became problematic. Nared and Russell combined for 35 points, 14 rebounds and six steals, but no other players tallied over 10 points. The guard duo of Rennia Davis and Evina Westbrook combined for 18 points but shot just 5-of-16 from the field.
In the second quarter, the Lady Vols came back from a 13-point deficit and knotted the game up, but Cunningham proved too much for Tennessee. Tennessee held Missouri to just six points from the field in the final quarter, but the Tigers tallied 11 points from the free throw line.
“We got in foul trouble early and got down early,” Vols head coach Holly Warlick said. “As a coach, when you lose a game like this it’s really disappointing, but I’m really proud of our kids.”
After losing its first six games, Florida got back on track Sunday with a big 88-71 win over Vanderbilt. Despite committing 17 turnovers, the Gators out-rebounded the Commodores by a 48-29 margin and shot over 50 percent from the field to win. Four Florida players scored over 16 points Sunday, including a team-high 25 points from guard Funda Nakkasoglu.
Only one starter for Vanderbilt scored more than 10 points. Commodore Rachel Bell scored 22 points. The Gators forced Vanderbilt to shoot just 40 percent from the field and 7-of-28 from deep range on the night. Although they snapped the losing streak, Florida now has both a five-game and a six-game losing streak this season.
“Well first of all, I feel like it gives us confidence. Yeah, we lost two games and some really close games, but we bounce back every game,” Gators head coach Cameron Newbauer said. “It’s the confidence part that we can conquer, and we can beat a lot of really good teams.”
Tennessee may be able to dominate this match up at the post, but Florida has shown that they can control the paint as well. If the Lady Vols don’t see solid production from Russell and Nared, this game could be closer than expected.
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of Channing Curtis