KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee women's basketball team returns to competition Thursday with a trip to Vanderbilt.
Tipoff at Memorial Gymnasium is at 9 p.m. EST, and the game will be televised by the SEC Network.
The Lady Volunteers (16-4, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) are fresh off a big 63-58 win over LSU on Sunday, while the Commodores (12-8, 2-5) have lost four straight and five of their past six games, the most recent a 98-61 defeat Sunday at Alabama.
Here are three keys for the Lady Vols at Vanderbilt:
1. Solid defense: Defense has been the constant for Tennessee this season, with the Lady Vols leading the SEC in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense. Meanwhile, the Commodores have averaged nearly 20 turnovers per game and have shot just 34% from the field during their most recent skid. Tennessee just needs to do what it does well, which is defend. However, the Lady Vols also need to ...
2. Find the open looks — and take care of the ball: The Lady Vols are far from an offensive juggernaut, but what they excel at is turning defense into offense and sharing the ball well — sometimes too well. Their average of 17.1 turnovers per game is only slightly trumped by their average of 17.8 assists, and sometimes those mistakes are from overdoing it when it comes to passing the ball. Vanderbilt has struggled on defense during its losing streak, with South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Alabama averaging 89.8 points and shooting 50% from the field. The shots will be there if Tennessee is patient, but the Lady Vols can't turn the ball over while trying to find those scoring opportunities.
3. Don't look ahead: It should be noted the Lady Vols' SEC opponents faced so far this season are a combined 11-31 in league play to date. After the visit to Vanderbilt, the road gets considerably tougher, with South Carolina, Mississippi State, LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas the next five opponents on Tennessee's schedule. Three of those games — South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas — are on the road against teams currently projected to make the NCAA tournament field. That five-game stretch could define Tennessee's postseason future, but if the Lady Vols don't take care of business against the Commodores, the future gets that much more difficult.