Lady Vols looking to avoid another SEC upset at Alabama

After having a 42-game win streak against Alabama last season, the Lady Vols look to start a new winning streak against the Crimson Tide.

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Diamond DeShields #11 of the Lady Volunteers contests a shot against the Alabama Crimson Tide on Jan. 31, 2016

Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick knows that Tennessee’s inconsistent season means no team is beaten before tipoff.

For Tennessee (16-9, 7-5 SEC), facing Alabama (15-10, 3-9 SEC) is just another potential bump in the road.

“We’ve got our hands full, and I don’t think their record is any indication of what they’re going to pose to us,” Warlick said on Wednesday.

Tennessee’s season has had plenty of highs and lows. Despite wins against then-top 10 opponents Stanford, Notre Dame and South Carolina, the Lady Vols are outsiders of the AP Top 25 poll and sit sixth in the SEC with a 7-5 conference record. The orange and white have dropped games to unranked Penn State, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, Auburn and Georgia.

When the Lady Vols meet Alabama on Thursday night, they’ll look to avoid making history in back-to-back years against the Tide. Last season, a 54-46 Alabama win in Tuscaloosa ended a 42-game win streak in the series. Tennessee hasn’t lost in Coleman Coliseum (16-0), Alabama’s regular basketball venue. The two teams last faced off there in 2010.

Despite losing five games in a row, the Crimson Tide present some potential matchup issues for the Lady Vols. Alabama is second in the conference in rebounds per game, an area in which Tennessee struggles in during losses.

Furthermore, the Crimson Tide hold one of the league’s best shot-blocking pairs in NeNe Bolton and Ashley Knight. Bolton is already a top-10 shot blocker in program history, and Knight is second in the conference in blocks. Tennessee’s reliance on Mercedes Russell down low could be in trouble if Bolton and Knight key in on the redshirt junior.

“We can’t go in and be casual and think it’s just another game,” Warlick said. “No, this is a team that competes and plays hard. They’re a very good basketball team.”

A win would keep Tennessee in the hunt for a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament. The Lady Vols are a game behind current No. 4 seed Kentucky with four SEC games remaining — securing a top-four seed would give Tennessee a double-bye in the tournament.

“We have to win our games, and a lot of it has to do with how other teams finish out as well,” Junior guard Alexa Middleton said on Wednesday. “We can’t control that. We just have to make sure we are doing the best we can do.”

Notes

— Tennessee is 18-1 all time in Tuscaloosa, but the Lady Vols 16-0 in Coleman Coliseum. Last year’s streak-ending loss came in Foster Auditorium — the venue hosted Alabama’s women’s basketball and volleyball programs from 2011-2016.

— Diamond DeShields, Tennessee’s leading scorer, went scoreless on 0-of-7 shooting in last year’s loss.

— Tennessee’s Mercedes Russell is four points shy of the 1,000-point milestone for her career. Similarly, DeShields is 71 points shy of 1,000 points during her time at Tennessee.

Tennessee takes on Alabama in Tuscaloosa at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be shown on SEC+ and the WatchESPN app.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image by Hayley Pennesi, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

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