Because the No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats and No. 22 Tennessee Lady Vols are both intent upon establishing themselves as contenders for the SEC title, Sunday’s matchup in Lexington is of utmost importance.
Especially so for Kentucky. In their opening conference contest, the Cats were outclassed by the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks, 99-72. A game-high 28 points from Rhyne Howard did little to dent South Carolina’s dominance.
To avoid dropping to 0-2 in SEC play, the Wildcats must match their offensive prowess with some old-fashioned effort. With the Lady Vols possessing multiple long athletes who could stymie Howard’s offensive effectiveness, the Cats should seek to create advantages by doing the dirty work, defending and rebounding with an intensity and alacrity that was mostly absent against the Gamecocks.
In contrast to Kentucky, Tennessee began SEC with a much-less intimidating matchup, welcoming the then-3-10 Missouri Tigers to the Summitt. The Lady Vols allowed to the Tigers to take a 21-16 first-quarter lead, but Tennessee eventually showed itself to be the superior team, winning 77-66. While spurred by a 19-point and 12-rebound double-double from Rennia Davis, Tennessee also benefitted from the diversity and dynamism of its entire starting lineup, receiving contributions from Jazmine Massengill (career-high 12 assists), Tamari Key (career-high 16 points), Lou Brown (3-4 from three and 11 points) and Jordan Horston (13 points).
With a similar effort on Sunday, the Lady Vols will exit Lexington with a win and a 2-0 conference record. Beyond securing a favorable spot in the conference standings, a Sunday victory will also serve as further evidence that Kellie Harper may be well on her way to restoring Rocky Top to glory.
No. 13 Kentucky Wildcats (11-2) vs. No. 22 Tennessee Lady Vols (11-2)
When: Sunday, Jan. 5 at 4:00 p.m. ET
Where: Memorial Coliseum, Lexington, KY
How to watch: ESPN2
Keys to the game: Or, more like Key to the game! Will it be Tamari Key who leads the Lady Vols to victory? The freshman has established herself as integral to Tennessee’s early-season success. Against a relatively undersized Kentucky team, Key, standing at 6-foot-5, should have the opportunity to make her mark. On offense, her low-post game can serve as a reliable offensive option for the Lady Vols. On defense, her shot-blocking prowess can prevent the Cats from getting easy buckets. If Key plays big, expect Tennessee to win big.