KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Even after racing to its fastest start since its last national title, Tennessee still has something to prove.
The third-ranked Lady Vols (10-0) are about to get that opportunity.
After playing just one ranked opponent in their first 10 games, the Lady Vols will face their toughest test of the season thus far Saturday when they travel to No. 6 Stanford (9-1). Tennessee has lost its last two games in this series by double digits and hasn’t won at Stanford since 2005.
“It would be great to get a ‘W’ to break that drought, but also just to show the rest of the country that we mean business,” Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick said.
Tennessee hasn’t faced a Top 25 team since Nov. 11, when it won 81-65 at No. 14 North Carolina, which was ranked 12th at the time. Stanford has won eight consecutive games since falling 76-57 at home to top-ranked Connecticut last month.
The Lady Vols are 10-0 for the first time since their 2007-08 national championship season and have an average victory margin of 24.8 points. Tennessee’s 2007-08 team also faced Stanford in its 11th game and lost 73-69 in overtime.
The Vols are outrebounding teams by 15.8 boards per game and boast a roster that features six players 6-foot-2 or taller.
“There are certain things, when you play Tennessee, you have to do year in and year out,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “They are aggressive, they are athletic and it is a big team that is active with their hands. They are also quick.”
Stanford’s had plenty of success against Tennessee recently. The Cardinal beat Tennessee 97-80 at home in 2011-12 and 73-60 in Knoxville a year ago. Stanford’s won three of the last four meeting between these two teams. Tennessee still leads the overall series 22-8, but the Lady Vols have lost in each of their last three trips to Stanford.
Chiney Ogwumike had 21 points and 19 rebounds in Stanford’s victory over Tennessee last season. The 6-foot-4 senior forward is averaging 25.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per game this season.
“She plays hard every possession,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “She does not take a possession off. She is hard to box out because she is constantly moving. She knows the game, she plays it hard. She fights for everything she gets. We have to match her intensity.”
Warlick criticized her team’s effort after last year’s loss to Stanford, and the Lady Vols bounced back to win a Southeastern Conference regular-season title and reach a regional final.
Tennessee’s players say they’re a closer team this year. They’ve shown some resilience by maintaining their perfect record despite being tied or behind at halftime in three games.
“The team camaraderie is different,” Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons said. “We’re more together, (so) when adversity hits we stick together. We communicate with each other in huddles. We’re holding each other accountable.”
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