Stanford-Tennessee clash to feature tough teams, top rebounders
Who: Tennessee at Stanford women’s basketball
Where and When: 1:30 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Networks
Why you should watch: It’s women’s college basketball royalty, yo. These programs have combined for 10 national championships, 29 final fours and 59 NCAA tournament appearances. The one thing women’s college basketball does very well, among others, is schedule marquee nonconference matchups (outside of UCONN-Tennessee, of course). This year is no different, as Tennessee (No. 3) and Stanford (No. 6) are both ranked in the AP top 10.
Series History: Tennessee leads it all-time 22-8, but Stanford has won three of the last four meetings, including an impressive 73-60 victory in Knoxville last season for their first win at Tennessee since 1996. If you like close games, this one’s for you: Three of the last seven meetings have gone to overtime.
How Stanford got to 9-1: Tara VanDerveer always tests her teams in November and December. This season was no excpetion as the scheduled kicked off with a bang and a two-game East Coast swing to Boston College and UCONN. The Huskies more or less ran the Card off the court, but it has been all roses for the Real Ladies of Maples ever since, winners of eight in a row. The wins might be comfortable, but the slate hasn’t been soft: Stanford is third in the nation in strength of schedule, according to realtimerpi.com (that’s what beating teams like Purdue [AP No. 18], Gonzaga [AP No. 25] and Texas [RPI No. 24] will do for ya).
How Tennessee got to 10-0: Like the Cardinal, Holly Warlick’s bunch also started off away from home and notched a big roadie over No. 14 North Carolina. As if facing the likes of Kentucky, Georgia and LSU isn’t enough in SEC play, the Lady Vols have also tested themselves against Middle Tennessee State, Texas, Chattanooga and Georgia Tech, all of whom are top-30 RPI teams.
Key Player for Stanford: It goes without saying that it’s the most recent member of the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound club on The Farm. Chiney Ogwumike joined some pretty elite company (try only the fifth player in school history) in the win over New Mexico and, while she hasn’t added the deep jumper in her senior year like her older sister Nneka did in 2011-12, she has been just as dominant. The Cyprus, Texas, native is averaging a whopping 25.7 points (this leads the Pac-12, mind you) and 10.6 boards per game while shooting the rock at a 63 percent clip.
Key Player for Tennessee: Meighan Simmons might be the leading scorer for coach Warlick, but it’s hard to go against Ariel Massengale. The junior point guard has already won an NCAA Player of the Week honor this year for averaging 15 points and 5.7 assists in a trio of games against North Carolina, Chattanooga and Georgia Tech. She is second on the team in scoring with 12.4 points per contest and leads the squad with 6.4 assists per time she steps on the court, which is no easy feat in college hoops.
Stat for Stanford: If this game comes down to the wire, the Card will have to find a way to knock down freebies at a higher clip than what is normal for the team. Stanford is shooting just 66 percent from the free throw line so far this year (it ranked 245th nationally as of the NCAA’s last stat update when it was shooting 65 percent), down from a much more respectable 72 percent in 2012-13.
Stat for Tennessee: As of Dec. 15, Tennessee was fifth in the nation in rebound margin at +15.0 (that difference has since jumped up to +15.8). Albeit, the Lady Vols have yet to go up against Chiney Ogwumike, and Mikaela Ruef can more than hold her own on the glass; her 9.5 boards per game rank sixth in the Pac. Both of these teams are very good window-washers – Bashaara Graves, Isabelle Harrison and Cierra Burdick all average right around eight pull-downs a contest for Warlick and Co. – so it will be interesting to see which side can do the better job of limiting second chance opportunities.