After suffering their fourth loss of the season versus No. 2 Notre Dame, the Lady Vols (16-4, 7-0 SEC) look to get back in the win column versus SEC West opponent Mississippi State (9-11, 1-6 SEC) today at 7 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick sees the Bulldogs as an example of the types of teams the SEC has because they are "athletic" and "play solid defense."
"You're going to see an athletic team, up and down, physical," Warlick said. "It's a typical SEC team; you got to be on it. I don't care if they're at the bottom of the SEC, any given night they can turn it on."
Coming off a loss, a worry for the Lady Vols is letting that hang over into their next game, but Warlick is working to make sure that doesn't happen.
"We could have a little letdown, I understand that," said Warlick. "But we're going to talk to them a lot today about getting back in the SEC and the importance of taking care of each game. It concerns me a little bit, but we got to go out and play the game and play with a lot of heart and passion."
Monday's 77-67 loss to Notre Dame was the Lady Vols' third loss against a Top 5 team this year. It was likely the Lady Vols' last chance to beat a Top 5 opponent until the NCAA tournament. However, that 10-point margin represents improvement against those Top 5 teams. Earlier this season, the Lady Vols lost by 23 points to then No. 3 Baylor and lost by 13 points to then No. 1 Stanford.
"We're confident, we understand that we're not there yet," senior Taber Spani said. "We played a great Notre Dame team and we just made basic, little mistakes. We're a very good team, but to be great we have to be more disciplined, we have to focus on the little things like coming off screens, like jumping to the ball so they can't get seven wide open layups. Those things are what's going to take us over the edge and be able to compete and play and hopefully beat those top four teams."
Sophomore Ariel Massengale seconded Spani in that she thinks the Lady Vols can compete with the best.
"Everyone is saying this is such a young team, but that's not an excuse for us. If we can put a 40 minute game together I think we'll be great," Massengale said.
Injuries have plagued the Lady Vols all year. Freshman Andraya Carter had season-ending shoulder surgery in December and sophomore Cierra Burdick fractured her hand earlier in January. Now sophomore Isabelle Harrison is out after suffering a knee injury in the first half of Monday's game.
The Lady Vols aren't going to let the injuries hamper their success going forward.
"We don't have a choice," Warlick said. "Injuries are part of this game and it's been a part of this program, and we're going to have to deal with it. We got to have some people step up. Our style is going to have to vary a little bit, but the end result is making sure we play hard and get after people. (We've) got to figure out a way to win the game as coaches. We've got to figure out that and help our kids do that."