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#20 Marquette Women’s Basketball Cancun Challenge Preview: vs #12 Tennessee Volunteers

It’s just the third game of the season, but it’s time for a big test for the Golden Eagles.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Time to buckle up, kids, as it’s rubber meet the road time for Marquette Golden Eagles women’s basketball.

After a rough start to the season in a narrow loss to Tennessee and a mostly decisive win over Loyola-Maryland, the Golden Eagles are south of the border for two games this holiday weekend, and the first one is the nasty one, as they’ll have to deal with national powerhouse Tennessee.

While this is a great opportunity for the ranked Golden Eagles to test themselves against another ranked opponent, Carolyn Kieger’s squad has an awful lot of questions to answer in their third game of the season. For starters, we still haven’t seen the full roster in action. Amani Wilborn was not dressed to play out in New Mexico, and Natisha Hiedeman and Selena Lott were suspended for disciplinary reasons against Loyola. Having the full roster in action for the first time against the #12 team in the country is usually not a super way to go about things, but it’s what Marquette is going to have to do here.

The other major question is what Marquette is going to do about their defense. New Mexico got free look after free look at layups late in that game, and ultimately, that was MU’s demise. The defense overall was much better against Loyola, as MU allowed just 0.84 points per possession, but the Greyhounds connected on 20 of 41 two point shots in the game. Teams can take advantage of Marquette inside the arc, either on drives or in the post, and as we’ll get to in a minute, that could be a major problem in Thursday’s game.

Game #3: vs #12 Tennessee Volunteers (3-0)

Date: Thursday, November 23, 2017
Time: 5:30pm Central
Location: Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya, Cancun, Mexico
Streaming: College Sports Live, although it’s going to cost you some money.
Live Stats: StatBroadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWBB

Marquette is 0-2 all time against Tennessee. The first meeting came in November of 1996, with the Vols getting an 83-68 win in the Howard Bank Classic in Vermont. The most recent contest was in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament, as Tennessee scraped past MU, 79-70, in Knoxville.

The Volunteers have opened up the season with three straight home wins, but the games have gotten progressively closer. 87-49 vs East Tennessee State started things off, and that was followed three days later with an 89-60 win over James Madison. On Monday night, Tennessee hosted Wichita State at Thompson-Boling Arena and had to settle for a 68-56 victory. That game was decided in the third quarter, where UT outscored the Shockers 19-8 after trailing by 4 after the first quarter and leading by just one at the half.

The Volunteers are clearly one of the best teams in the country, but they’re facing an uphill battle when league play starts. They were picked to finish fifth in the SEC in a vote of the league’s coaches. Eight players were named to the preseason all-SEC team because sure why not eight is a reasonable number, and two Vols made the list. Both Jaime Nared and Mercedes Russell are seniors for UT this year, and so far, they’re living up to the billing. Russell leads a pack of four Volunteers averaging in double digits at 17.0 points per game, while Nared is right behind her at 15.7. Nared is managing a double-double so far with 10.3 rebounds, and the 6’6” Russell is not that far away at 9.0 caroms per game.

With all but two of Holly Warlick’s players listed at six-feet or taller, this presents a unique and interesting problem for the Golden Eagles to solve. New Mexico’s Jaisa Nunn stands at 6’4”, and wrecked shop against Marquette in the season opener. MU showed difficulty defending the interior last season, and with multiple bodies that can merely stand taller than Marquette’s roster, Carolyn Kieger will have to try to solve that riddle in order to snag the win. The answer is not going to be to try and speed Tennessee up, by the way, as UT is averaging more than 77 possessions per game so far this season. They’re going to be more than comfortable to run with Marquette.