UConn women’s basketball will play Tennessee for the first time in 13 years Thursday night. While all the major news outlets may be hyping up the renewal of the rivalry, don’t expect an instant classic in this one.
The Lady Vols did return to the top 25 this week, checking in at No. 23, and are undefeated in SEC play thus far. However, they have yet to play their conference giants - No. 1 South Carolina and No. 10 Mississippi State - and their best wins of the season are over Georgia and Alabama, neither of which crack the RPI top 50.
Simply put, Tennessee is in a rebuilding state under new head coach Kellie Harper, and is not part of the elite tier of NCAA women’s basketball right now. That being said, it still gives the Huskies a chance to face another ranked opponent and NCAA tournament-caliber team. Additionally, the Lady Vols size (just one player on the roster is listed at under six feet) will be a good challenge for the Huskies interior defense, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa in particular.
Nelson-Ododa struggled against Baylor’s front court in UConn’s loss two weeks ago, finishing 0-8 from the floor. While the talent of Tennessee’s post players doesn’t match that of Lauren Cox and NaLyssa Smith, they’ll still challenge her to score over more size in the front court than the Huskies are seeing in conference play. The inside match up will showcase what, if any, strides Nelson-Ododa has made since the loss to the Bears and give her another tougher test ahead of big games against No. 4 Oregon and No. 1 South Carolina.
Interestingly, many of the keys to the game for UConn Thursday night will be similar to those against Baylor. However, with a lower ranked opponent if the Huskies execute at their normal level they should have no problem getting the win.
Keys to the game for the Huskies:
Crashing the glass on both ends of the court: Unsurprisingly given their size, Tennessee is one of the better rebounding teams in the country. They rank first in the nation for defensive rebounds per game and in the top 15 for offensive rebounds per game, per Her Hoop Stats. UConn will need to have a strong presence on the glass and look to come out with the positive rebounding margin.
Containing Rennia Davis: Davis the by far the leading scorer for Tennessee, averaging 17.3 points a game. She can score in a variety of ways, and has a knack for coming up in the clutch, including this insane buzzer beater for Tennessee’s win over Alabama earlier this week.
Davis is the biggest threat on offense, and the Huskies will need to contain her to slow down the Lady Vols scoring (they average about 75 points per game).
RENNIA DAVIS CALLED GAME❗️❗️❗️ pic.twitter.com/7Rq1DHJcC0— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 21, 2020
Interior defense: Tennessee scores just 21 percent of their points from three point range, which ranks in the bottom 15 percent in the country. They shoot an average of 33 percent from beyond the arc as well, which is good but not excellent. They are the most lethal inside, where their 50 percent two-point field goal percentage ranks in the top 10 percent in the country. UConn will need to guard them well inside.
How to watch:
Where: XL Center, Hartford, CT
When: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network, 97.9 ESPN Hartford