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Preview: Bubble team Mississippi State faces No. 16 Tennessee, looks to end three-game skid

Tamari Key and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers play the struggling Mississippi State Bulldogs on Thursday.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Texas A&M at Tennessee
Tamari Key (right)
Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

As the regular season winds down, the No. 16 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (21-6, 10-4 SEC) are fighting to stay in the top four in the SEC. Their Thursday night opponent, the Mississippi State Bulldogs (15-11), have a losing record in the SEC (6-8) and have lost four of their last five.

The Bulldogs are currently in ESPN’s projected NCAA Tournament field as a No. 11 seed, but are on the bubble and could really use a big-time win to improve their resume.

Jordan Horston, who powers the Lady Vols, is out indefinitely with a fractured dislocation in her left elbow. The Lady Vols are much weaker without her as she leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and minutes played. The junior guard has been nothing short of spectacular for the team. But she wasn’t single-handedly carrying the team. Center Tamari Key is nearly averaging a double-double with 10 points and 8.1 rebounds. She also rejects 3.7 shots per game.

The Bulldogs need a huge game from their star player Anastasia Hayes. She’s been fantastic in SEC play, averaging 20.8 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. Unfortunately for Mississippi State, Hayes’ performances if 21, 17 and 14 points over the last three games were not enough to put the team win column.

The Bulldogs also need to find a way to win the rebounding battle to pull off the upset. They’ve been struggling to grab boards, using a four-guard starting lineup.

Game Information

Mississippi State Bulldogs (15-11, 6-8 SEC) vs. No. 16 Tennessee Lady Volunteers (21-6, 10-4 SEC)

When: Thursday, Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN

How to watch: SECN+

Keys to the matchup: Mississippi State will have to try to not get obliterated on the boards and shoot well from beyond the arc. It’ll also need a big game from star guard Anastasia Hayes. Tennessee will be looking to dominate with its inside-out game and demonstrate that it is still a top team in the SEC without Jordan Horston.