After going 1-for-6 in the Tennessee Lady Vols first game against the Kentucky Wildcats, point guard Meighan Simmons could be a key player in tonight's meeting at 7 p.m. EDT on ESPN2. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
As Jennifer Smith of the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote yesterday, both the #7 Kentucky Wildcats and #11 Tennessee Lady Vols will be attempting to rebound from tough losses when they meet tonight at 7 p.m. EDT in Knoxville (ESPN2/ESPN3.com).
But there should be little doubt about which team has more to lose.
A loss would drop the Lady Vols from sole possession of second place into a four-way tie for second, with the Vanderbilt team that just beat them on Thursday only one game behind them along with the LSU Lady Tigers team that just beat the Wildcats. Although they'd still have a slim chance to win the conference - along with three other teams - if Kentucky were to go on a disastrous losing streak of their own, a loss tonight makes it almost certain that they'll finish short of first for the first time since this senior class' freshman year.
That's not to mention the added disappointment of losing a second conference game at home and suffering a third loss in four games at the end of a generally disappointing season.
So let's focus on Tennessee: what do they have to do to avoid that potentially dark place?
Key statistical battleground: Turnovers
Turnovers haven't necessarily been the consistent theme in losses, which is somewhat troubling - the most significant characteristic of their losses is that they've been so inconsistent.
In their losses to Stanford and South Carolina, their opponents forced a significant turnover differential by taking care of the ball well. Against Virginia, their own turnovers hurt them. They've also been outrebounded and badly outshot in losses.
But the turnover differential will be almost unquestionably be significant in tonight's game against Kentucky: in their 61-60 loss to Kentucky earlier this year their 27.8% turnover rate during the course of the game was as significant as Adia Mathies hitting the final shot to win it.
Key Tennessee player: Meighan Simmons
One thing that really stands out about Lady Vols losses is also Meighan Simmons' inefficient scoring: she's had a true shooting percentage of 37.6% in losses and 49% in wins.
Other players have struggled in losses as well - freshman point guard Ariel Massengale being a notable example - but the difference between Simmons and other players is that she tends to shoot a lot. And when the shots aren't falling, she doesn't shoot much less.
That said, in the first meeting against Kentucky, she had her fewest field goal attempts of the season (6) but only made one. If it becomes another close battle, Simmons' ability to get and make shots could make a huge difference.