KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee carries its longest losing streak in nearly half a century into a matchup with the nation’s top-ranked team.
The Lady Volunteers (12-6) have dropped five straight games and have fallen out of the Top 25 as they prepare to host No. 1 Notre Dame (18-1) on Thursday. If Tennessee can’t turn things around, it could actually miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in that event’s 38-year history.
“We’ve got to come together because we’re the only ones that can fix it,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said Monday after an 80-79 loss to Arkansas. “You may be on our bandwagon or may not be on our bandwagon, but these kids, they’re going to rally together.”
The Arkansas game followed defeats to No. 25 Missouri (66-64), No. 15 Kentucky (73-71), Georgia (66-62) and Alabama (86-65) that gave Tennessee its first five-game skid since 1970. Tennessee is 1-5 in Southeastern Conference competition.
“A lot of these games we know we could have won and definitely should have won,” forward Rennia Davis said.
Notre Dame and Tennessee have been heading in opposite directions since facing off last season. Tennessee carried a 16-1 record into that game and built a 23-point lead before Notre Dame produced its biggest comeback in school history to win 84-70.
Including that comeback, Notre Dame has won 37 of its last 39 games, capturing a national title along the way. Tennessee has gone 21-13 over that same period and has struggled to be relevant on the national landscape.
“That’s the game that turned our (2017-18) season around,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “And I think they’re probably feeling the same way right now. For them, what better way to come out of a slump than to beat the No. 1 team in the country? They are really in need of a win, and we have got to be incredibly focused because the game could easily go either way.”
Warlick wonders if Tennessee’s underdog status against Notre Dame might help her team, which consists largely of freshmen and sophomores.
“We’re not supposed to win the basketball game, and that’s fine,” Warlick said. “We’re supposed to beat Missouri. We’re supposed to beat Kentucky. We’re supposed to beat Arkansas. We’re supposed to beat Alabama. We just haven’t gotten it done. We’re not supposed to beat Notre Dame. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to prepare and be ready and fight and put our kids in the opportunity to win.”
Warlick then immediately clarified her remarks.
“I think we’re going to win every game,” she said. “When our kids are dialed in and playing hard, we’re pretty darn good.”
But lately they haven’t been very good.
Davis is Tennessee’s second-leading scorer, but she has shot 5 of 29 over Tennessee’s last three games and went scoreless against Alabama. Meme Jackson is Tennessee’s No. 3 scorer, but she’s shot 4 of 31 during this five-game skid and injured her ankle against Arkansas. Warlick describes Jackson’s status as day to day.
Warlick remains confident Tennessee can bounce back. Four of Tennessee’s last five losses were decided by a total of nine points.
“We’re right there,” Warlick said. “I’m not going to give up on this basketball team.”
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