Tennessee (16-10, 7-6 SEC) will play its next-to-last home game of the season on Sunday when they host Arkansas (13-13, 2-11 SEC) for a 3:00 p.m. ET tip where major postseason implications will be on the line for the Lady Vols.
After being upset by Alabama on Thursday, Tennessee lost more than just Diamond DeShields for the game. They also may have lost their shot at a double-bye in the SEC Tournament. UT entered Thursday’s match-up in fifth place and just one game behind Kentucky for the No. 4 seed.
With just three games left, Tennessee sits in sixth place thanks to owning the tiebreaker with LSU as both teams are 7-6 in SEC play. The Lady Vols enter Sunday two games out of fourth place and will need to hop Missouri and either Kentucky or Texas A&M.
Tennessee will most likely be with out its star player in DeShields at least for Sunday after she was carted off the court at Alabama on Thursday.
DeShields collided with an Alabama player and as a precaution was placed in a neck brace and on a backboard. She was talking and moving all of her extremities, as well as being able to sit up before being taken to a local hospital. She was released on Thursday night and able to fly back to Knoxville with the team but there has been no update on her status for Sunday.
The good news is that the Lady Vols’ next two games are against two of the worst teams in the SEC. This includes Arkansas, where Tennessee should still be able to beat without DeShields assuming she does not return in time.
Tennessee leads the all-time series 28-3 and is 13-1 in Knoxville against the Hogs. The Lady Vols have also won two straight games in the series including a 68-51 win over Arkansas last year in the SEC Tournament.
Schaquilla Nunn stepped up and recorded 15 points and 15 rebounds against Alabama after DeShields went down. That gives the Lady Vols their 28th double-double this season and Nunn became the fifth different Lady Vol to record a double-double on the year.
Over the last five games, Mercedes Russell has been the team’s leading scorer and is averaging a double-double with 17.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
Alexa Middleton continues her hot shooting as of late as she is UT’s second-leading scorer over the past three games, averaging 11.3 points per game. Tennessee will need her to keep it up if DeShields winds up missing a long stretch of games.
Where to tune in
The game will be broadcasted on SECNetwork+, which means you will have to view the game online or on WatchESPN. You can listen to the Lady Vol Network’s coverage of the game on Sports Radio WNML 99.1 FM or 990 AM.
Match-up at a glance
Points per game: 74.5
Points allowed per game: 66.3
Rebounds per game: 41.3
Defensive rebounds: 38.3
Field goal %t: .436
Field goal % defense: .388
Points per game: 65.0
Points allowed per game: 59.5
Rebounds per game: 38.3
Defensive rebounds: 35.4
Field goal %: .403
Field goal % defense: .381
Unlike Tennessee, Arkansas doesn’t start a true center. Most likely it will be 6-3 senior forward Jessica Jackson that will have the job of guarding UT center Mercedes Russell. Russell has a 3 inch advantage over Jackson and a 5 inch advantage over the Hogs’ other starting forward Keiryn Swenson. That’s why this match-up goes to the Lady Vols and Russell.
Tennessee only starts one forward compared to the Hogs’ three. However, you still have people playing the three and four positions. Jaime Nared is one of the most talented forwards in the SEC and could be the MVP for Tennessee. UT will not only need her to be big against Arkansas, but also down the stretch if DeShields is out of action for a while. The third forward that the Hogs normally start is Bailey Zimmerman, but Nared has a slight height advantage over the Hogs’ forwards except for Jackson. She should spend most of her time on Russell and look for Swenson to spend a lot of time on Nared. This leaves Zimmerman to guard the mix-and-match that Tennessee might go with in DeShields’s absence at the three. The possibility of losing DeShields height and athleticism is why I give the slight advantage to Arkansas.
The big question for Tennessee is who do they start in DeShields’s place? Expect Jordan Reynolds to remain in the starting lineup, but lately Holly Warlick as been switching between Middleton and Meme Jackson. There is a good chance they will both start in DeShields’s absence, but with as well as Nunn played against Alabama she could get the chance to start as well. You can expect the young duo of Malica Monk and Jaclyn Mason to start for Arkansas and Tennessee’s veteran presence could bother the two young players for the Hogs. Despite the questions surrounding what Tennessee’s lineup will look like at the guard position, the Lady Vols still own the advantage.
Lady Vols 72, Arkansas 60