Sometimes it seems like every nonconference opponent for the Tennessee Lady Volunteers is a traditional rival.
UT coach Pat Summitt’s longevity is a major part of this perception. Another part of it is that teams that once played larger roles in the game of women’s basketball remain on the schedule for history’s sake. Louisiana Tech, no longer a contender on the national scene, is one of those.
Old Dominion, tonight’s opponent in a 7 o’clock tip at Thompson-Boling Arena, is another.
“It is interesting because a lot of people want to play us now,” Summitt said. “I think maybe they want to because they know that we are losing our core group of veterans after this year. We get a lot of phone calls. They started even two years ago.
“I’m pleased that we do have people that are interested in starting a series, but it will be difficult with us adding the two SEC opponents to our schedule and the fact that we have played some of these teams for so long (that) we still want to keep the series going, and ODU is certainly one of those.”
The Lady Monarchs (6-2) have posted two straight wins over ranked teams in their last couple of outings, including a 79-73 victory over Michigan State on Sunday. ODU was ranked this week for the first time since the 2001-02 season, entering at No. 24. It’s the best start since 1999-2000.
Old Dominion is led by T.J. Jordan, who is averaging 16.9 points per game. Jessica Canady is also scoring in double figures, with 10.5 per contest. Megan Pym and Tiffany Green are the top rebounders on the squad.
The No. 1 Lady Vols (6-0) are coming off a taxing victory over No. 4 North Carolina. Tennessee was able to produce double-digit leads at least five times but could never prevent the Tar Heels from coming back.
“We learned a lot about ourselves. We can’t get frazzled. We went up and then we let them come back,” UT junior Candace Parker said.
“All of us need to be put in situations in practice to work on that.”
Because of the closeness of the game and reliance on starters by both sides, Summitt was not able to play freshman guard Sydney Smallbone and freshman forward Vicki Baugh made only a brief appearance. Both saw significant action in the five previous games.
“I didn’t feel comfortable having them in the game,” Summitt said. “But we’ve got to keep getting them playing time in each game so they can improve.”
The Lady Vols will next break for a week to take final exams before resuming action on Dec. 13 by hosting MTSU.