The No. 5 UConn women’s basketball team has been on an absolute tear as of late, ripping off 11 straight wins, despite only having seven or eight players available for much of that stretch. Maybe more impressive is their margin of victory in their past three outings, winning by a combined 128 total points, an average of over 42 points per game. There’s no team in the sport that’s been that dominant against such competition with two of the three teams ranking in the top 75 of the latest NET rankings.
Their road to stay undefeated in 2023 continues Thursday, when the Huskies take their shot at Tennessee. The Lady Volunteers rank No. 18 in NET and was the first team out of the AP Top 25. They’re 16-6 overall and 8-0 in the SEC, challenging themselves heavily in their out-of-conference slate. Their schedule ended up being a bit too hard, as five of their six losses came against teams currently ranked in the current AP top 12. Their other defeat came at the hands of current No. 17 Gonzaga — not a walk in the park.
They boast a win against current No. 25 Colorado, but otherwise haven’t really proved much. They’ve sufficiently demonstrated that they don’t belong in the top 20, but after winning nine straight against the underbelly of the SEC, it’s not too clear where they stand.
Senior forward Rickea Jackson has been phenomenal for the Vols, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards in just nine games started. The transfer from Mississippi State has done a nice job filling the void that Rae Burrell left, making her impact on every game she plays. Since coming into the college game, the forward has never made the big dance and has a nice chance to do so in her first year in Knoxville. A mix of Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhasz will likely be used to help guard her, although Aubrey Griffin will likely figure as the primary defender.
One of the biggest question marks ahead of the game will be the status of star guard Jordan Horston, who missed Sunday’s narrow win over Missouri. She’s a catalyst for the team, running point, averaging 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists. In the Huskies’ game against the Vols last year, Horston exploded for 26 points, the only player whose game made it to Hartford.
In that matchup, the Huskies were led by a commanding effort from Azzi Fudd, who is currently sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury. Instead, the Huskies will be looking for a dominant performance from junior Aaliyah Edwards. With opposing center Tamari Key out for the season, Edwards shouldn’t have a tough time scoring and collecting boards, the two things she consistently does to help win games. She’s gotten at least 15 points and seven boards in each of her past five times on the floor, with two 20 and 10 outings. She’s establishing herself as an All-American candidate with her stellar play and should have no trouble finding herself on the final list if her success continues.
Another player to watch is star wing Lou Lopez-Senechal, who has been a pure scorer for the Huskies all year. She’s never found herself below 10 points in a Connecticut uniform, a testament to her consistency for the Huskies. Also impressive is her accuracy from deep. She accounts for over a third of the team’s makes from deep on the season, shooting at a high volume and hitting on 49%. For most players, hitting 35% on over five attempts a game is tough, yet alone 49%.
This game is the 26th installment of the UConn and Tennessee rivalry, with the Huskies winning the last three after taking a 13-year hiatus and leading the series 16-9. The rivalry was frequently played twice a year — once scheduled in early to mid-January and then again in late March or April when the teams inevitably faced off in the NCAA tournament. Pat Summitt, the Tennessee coach who was bitter rivals with Geno Auriemma, has since passed and this will be ESPN’s annual “We Back Pat” game.
Thompson-Boling Arena will also be the site of ESPN’s first women’s College Gameday of the year, which will be hosted by Elle Duncan, Andraya Carter, Rebecca Lobo, Carolyn Peck and Holly Rowe at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The game itself will tip off at 8 p.m. also on ESPN.