What is different this time around is the sheer athleticism of the No. 9-ranked Lady Vols. Although Tennessee lost its first game of the season Tuesday against Stanford, it didn’t sway ETSU coach Brittany Ezell’s opinion of coach Holly Warlick’s team — which the Bucs will face Friday at Knoxville’s Thompson-Boling Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“It’s one of Holly’s most athletic teams,” Ezell said. “They’re shooting it really well and they’re scoring at a high clip. They’re still ferocious on the glass. Their three-quarter press has really been effective. It will be another good test for us and another opportunity to challenge our team.”
There is no doubt another challenge for the Bucs, who are 2-12 against a brutal non-conference schedule. It doesn’t get easier as Tennessee (8-1) will perhaps be the toughest team ETSU has faced all season.
The Lady Vols have a distinct size advantage as every player but one is listed at 6-foot high or taller. However, the one who falls just shy of the mark (5-11) is the player who worries Ezell the most.
“Meme Jackson had 33 on their trip to Texas,” Ezell said. “They have someone score on the perimeter like that and they’re already huge. Everyone on their roster poses a problem and that’s why they’re No. 9 in the country. Having someone like Jackson, though, it makes you hesitant to play zone.”
Evina Westbrook, a 6-foot sophomore guard, leads the Lady Vols in scoring at 18 points per game. Rennia Davis is second on the team at 14.1, followed by Jackson’s 13.6 points average. As a team, Tennessee is averaging 81 points per game, nearly 20 more than its opponents.
That’s not good news for ETSU, which has given up nearly 76 points per game and has been outscored by 10 points per contest. However, there have been some positives in recent games with close losses to UNC Asheville and Duquesne and a 61-56 win over North Carolina A&T.
“We’re playing well right now, it’s just putting it all together in a way that makes sense to who we’re playing,” Ezell said. “Playing Chattanooga is different than playing Michigan State, South Carolina, Rutgers and Tennessee.”
Guard Erica Haynes-Overton leads ETSU with 16.5 points and 3.5 assists per game. But it has been a hard time replacing the graduated Tianna Tarter in the backcourt, especially with Jada Craig appearing in just four games due to injuries.
“It’s been tough with Jada being out,” Ezell said. “She was the upperclassman that was going to step in. Kaia (Upton) is trying to step in as a freshman and she’s done a good job scoring the basketball, but she’s still learning how to distribute.
“If you remember back to Tianna’s freshman year, she was nowhere near the impact player she turned out to be. It’s learning to trust seven newcomers and others didn’t play a lot of minutes.”
Other concerns include the need shore up the help-side defense and getting better rebounding position.
The Bucs also are looking to get more production out of the posts. Haynes-Overton is the only player in double figures as the next leading scorers are Raven Dean at 8.1 points per game and Britney Snowden at 7.6.
Ezell is encouraged by the continued improvement of Micah Scheetz and Carley Lytton. She’s also quick to remind the tough schedule is meant to prepare ETSU for Southern Conference play, which starts Jan. 12 at Chattanooga.
Friday night, however, the only concern is the task at hand — with Tennessee presenting a tall order.