Tennessee heads into its biggest week of the women’s basketball season with its highest ranking.
The Lady Vols (22-5, 13-1 SEC) rose three spots Monday to No. 8 in The Associated Press weekly poll. It’s their highest ranking since Jan. 30 of last season. After starting this season at No. 20, they rose as high as No. 9 for four straight weeks last month.
Losses by SEC rivals Kentucky and Texas A&M, along with Maryland, aided UT’s ascent. Tennessee’s 60-54 victory at Arkansas Sunday, combined with Kentucky and A&M losing, enabled the Lady Vols to clinch a share of the regular-season conference title.
Tennessee hosts No. 13 Texas A&M on Thursday (TV: CSS, 7 p.m.) at Thompson-Boling Arena before finishing at No. 10 Kentucky on Sunday.
“It’s a great opportunity for our players,” UT coach Holly Warlick said. “It’s a great opportunity to see where we are.”
Warlick was speaking on Sunday and she wasn’t thinking about rankings. Instead, she was preoccupied with her team’s uneven play against the Razorbacks. The Lady Vols had to overcome a shoddy first half, during which they scored 19 points, shot 26.9 percent from the floor (7 for 26) and committed 13 turnovers in falling behind by nine points.
There were strategic adjustments at halftime, but a forceful reminder took priority.
“It was more about effort, not doing what you’ve done to get here,” Warlick said.
Two players expressed conflicting views on how UT got in such a predicament. Taber Spani thought the Lady Vols were playing too fast. Meighan Simmons didn’t think they were playing fast enough.
“I think from the beginning, we should’ve been running in transition,” Simmons said. “That’s our game.”
Whatever the case, the Lady Vols got their act together in the final 20 minutes and have arrived where they want to be.
“These two games are kind of what we’ve been waiting our SEC season for,” Spani said. “You want to be in this position.”