No. 6 Lady Vols look to end struggles vs. No. 7 Notre Dame
Tennessee needs no reminders about its recent history with Notre Dame.
After winning the first 20 games in this series, the Lady Volunteers have lost to Notre Dame by double-digit margins each of the last four seasons. That gives the sixth-ranked Lady Vols (15-2) loads of incentive as they put their 11-game winning streak on the line Monday at No. 7 Notre Dame (16-2).
”I think we have a great opportunity to go down there and get a great win against a good basketball team,” Tennessee senior forward Cierra Burdick said. ”In my career, I’ve never beaten Notre Dame, and I definitely want to check that off the list.”
A victory also would help the Lady Vols wipe away the memories of their last trip to Notre Dame, when they fell 72-44 during the 2011-12 season in the second-most lopsided defeat of former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt’s 38-year tenure.
”They had their way with us, and it was embarrassing,” Burdick said. ”It was on national television. The score was taped all around our locker room for the next month. The walls were covered. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Although Notre Dame has won each of its last four games with Tennessee by an average margin of 17 points, the Lady Vols have reason to feel confident.
The Lady Vols already have three wins over top-10 foes this year, as they beat No. 13 Stanford 59-40 when it was ranked seventh, knocked off No. 9 Oregon State 74-63 when it was ranked 10th and trounced No. 11 Texas A&M 81-58 when it was ranked ninth.
Tennessee has stepped up its defense. The Lady Vols are allowing only 51.2 points per game, down from 62.9 last year and 63.9 in 2012-13. Tennessee’s defense faces perhaps its stiffest test against Notre Dame, which averages 85.6 points per game.
”Tennessee is a really good team,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. ”That will be the best team we’ve played since (a 76-58 loss to) Connecticut. They’ve got just a really strong inside game. They’ve got great guard play, but they’re very big, so we may look at possibly making some changes to our lineup for this one.”
Notre Dame has won the last four games in this series because its star players have delivered huge performances. Skylar Diggins averaged 28 points per game in her last three matchups with Tennessee before graduating in 2013. Kayla McBride had 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists against Tennessee last season.
With Diggins and McBride in the WNBA, Tennessee now must try to contain Jewell Loyd and Brianna Turner.
Loyd averages 20.8 points per game and had scored in double figures 60 consecutive games before being held to eight points Thursday in an 89-79 victory at No. 12 North Carolina. Turner had 29 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocks against North Carolina.
Although Tennessee owns an 11-game winning streak, the Lady Vols weren’t particularly pleased with their performance in a 54-42 victory Thursday at Auburn, which is winless in Southeastern Conference competition. Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said afterward that her team lacks a killer instinct, something that could prove fatal against Notre Dame.
In last season’s game with Notre Dame, Tennessee squandered an early 12-point lead and fell apart in the second half of an 86-70 loss to the Fighting Irish. Monday’s game gives the Lady Vols a chance to show how much they’ve grown since.
”It’s a big game for us,” Warlick said. ”It’s on a national stage, and we want to produce. We want to play as well as we can, as hard as we can, and we want to lay it all out there.”
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Auburn, Alabama, contributed to this report.