KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The 2017-18 women’s basketball schedule was released Tuesday by the Southeastern Conference office in Birmingham, Ala., providing dates for Tennessee’s league games.
League play will begin on Sunday, Dec. 31, and run through Sunday, Feb. 25, marking UT’s earliest SEC opener since Dec. 17, 1998, when the (then) No. 2 Lady Vols won at Arkansas, 82-62. The schedule consists of a single round robin (10 games) and home and away with one permanent opponent (2 games) and two rotating opponents (4 games).
The conference’s permanent opponents for women’s basketball are Alabama-Auburn, Arkansas-Missouri, Florida-Georgia, Kentucky-South Carolina, LSU-Texas A&M, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, and Tennessee-Vanderbilt. UT’s two rotating foes this season are South Carolina and Texas A&M.
This marks the ninth year of the 16-game schedule for women’s basketball and the sixth with 14 teams. Each team will play eight home games and eight away games.
During the week of January 21-28, SEC member institutions will participate in the seventh annual “We Back Pat” Week. The week-long initiative is focused on bringing awareness and recognition to the Pat Summitt Foundation, a fund of East Tennessee Foundation, and its fight against Alzheimer’s disease.
The regular season concludes with the 2018 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament being held for the sixth time at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. The tournament will include all 14 teams and begins on Wednesday, Feb. 28, and concludes with the championship game on Sunday, March 4.
The women’s basketball television schedule will be announced at a later date, as will times for all games.
The Lady Vols will welcome NCAA Final Four teams Mississippi State and South Carolina to Thompson-Boling Arena on Jan. 21 and Feb. 25, respectively. The match-up with the defending national champion Gamecocks will be the final home regular-season game for the Tennessee seniors.
Following the SEC opener on the road at Kentucky on Dec. 31, Tennessee will welcome Auburn and Vanderbilt to Rocky Top on Jan. 4 and 7. Other home SEC contests include Ole Miss on Jan. 25, Texas A&M on Feb. 1, Georgia on Feb. 11 and Alabama on Feb. 15.
In addition to the league lid-lifter in Lexington, the Lady Vols will make road trips to Texas A&M (Jan. 11), South Carolina (Jan. 14), LSU (Jan. 28), Vanderbilt (Feb. 4), Arkansas (Feb. 8), Missouri (Feb. 18) and Florida (Feb. 22). The back-to-back road tilts at A&M and USC are followed by a non-conference game at Notre Dame on Jan. 18 and the home contest vs. MSU on Jan. 21, forming what appears to be the most difficult stretch of the schedule.
Tennessee went 20-12 (10-6 SEC/5th) last season, its fifth under head coach Holly Warlick. The Lady Vols faced the nation’s fifth-toughest schedule, picking up victories over top-10 foes South Carolina, Mississippi State, Notre Dame and Stanford along the way.
UT will welcome back a pair of all-star performers in seniors Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared. Russell, a 6-foot-6 center, averaged 16.1 points and 9.7 rebounds per game a year ago, posting a Lady Vol junior record with 19 double-doubles. She was named an honorable mention All-American by AP and the WBCA and was a second-team All-SEC pick by AP and the coaches.
Nared, meanwhile, tallied 15.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per contest, carding eight double-doubles of her own. The team’s second-leading three-point shooter with 37 treys in 2016-17, Nared was named to the Coaches All-SEC Second Team as a junior.
Returnees joining Russell and Nared are 5-11 junior wing Meme Jackson, 6-2 senior forward Kortney Dunbar and 6-3 sophomore center Kamera Harris. Jackson played in all 32 games last season, starting 19 of them.
Five newcomers are set to hit the court this season, including 6-3 junior college All-America forward Cheridene Green (redshirted last season due to a knee injury) and the nation’s No. 1 ranked signing class. That group includes 6-0 guard Evina Westbrook (No. 2 in the HoopGurlz/espnW 100), 5-7 guard Anastasia Hayes (ranked No. 7), 6-2 wing Rennia Davis (ranked No. 12) and 6-4 center Kasiyahna Kushkituah (ranked No. 57).
Tennessee released its non-conference slate on July 7. The Lady Vols host Carson-Newman in an exhibition on Nov. 7 followed by bouts with East Tennessee State (Nov. 12), James Madison (Nov. 15), Wichita State (Nov. 20), Central Arkansas (Nov. 30), Alabama State (Dec. 3), Troy (Dec. 6) and Texas (Dec. 10).
The Lady Vols have non-league games vs. Marquette, Oklahoma State and South Dakota in the Cancun Challenge on Nov. 23-25 and road contests at Long Beach State (Dec. 17), Stanford (Dec. 21) and Notre Dame (Jan. 18).
- The SEC opener is Tennessee’s earliest since playing at Arkansas on Dec. 17, 1998.
- UT will open at home for the third time in Holly Warlick‘s sixth season as head coach.
- Tennessee is slated to play eight regular-season games vs. teams ranked in Charlie Crème’s Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25, including three at home.
- Those games are vs. No. 4 Texas, at No. 5 Notre Dame, at/vs. No. 6 South Carolina (twice), at No. 7 Stanford, vs. No. 9 Mississippi State, at No. 15 Missouri and at No. 23 LSU.
- The Lady Vols will play 21 regular-season games vs. teams that saw postseason action in 2016-17, including 10 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
- UT plays three teams who made it to the 2017 NCAA Final Four, including South Carolina, Mississippi State and Stanford. Tennessee defeated all three squads last season.
- Notre Dame advanced as far as the Elite Eight a year ago, while Texas made the Sweet 16.
- Teams advancing as far as the NCAA Second Round in 2016 were Kentucky, Missouri and Texas A&M, while Auburn, Central Arkansas, Long Beach State, LSU, Marquette and Troy were eliminated in the first round.
- The Lady Vols had the nation’s fifth-toughest schedule in 2016-17, the toughest schedule in 2015-16, the second-toughest in 2014-15 and fourth most difficult in 2013-14.
- Auburn (Quarterfinals), James Madison (3rd Round), South Dakota (2nd Round), Alabama (1st Round) and Ole Miss (1st Round) played in the WNIT last season.
- South Dakota is UT’s only first-time opponent this year, facing a game-three match-up vs. Warlick’s squad in the Cancun Challenge.
- The Lady Vols are making their second regular-season trip outside the U.S. during the Warlick era, with UT winning the Lucaya Division of the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas, in 2013 during their last regular-season international excursion.
- Tennessee will play at Long Beach State for the first time since Dec. 19, 1989.
The Lady Vols will host a lone exhibition game vs. Carson-Newman on Nov. 7.