The Ohio State and Tennessee women’s basketball teams both had the luxury of taking the highway to the University of Dayton Arena.
The fourth-seeded Buckeyes traveled less than 80 miles west and a bit south to reach the Gem City, while the top-seeded Lady Vols and their fans needed only to zip up I-75 roughly 300 miles.
From the sounds of things, both teams hope to translate those highway speeds to the court when the teams meet in an NCAA tournament regional semifinal at noon Saturday.
“I expect them to try to push a lot in transition,” All-SEC forward Glory Johnson of Tennessee said. “(Ohio State’s Samantha Prahalis) is a really quick guard. She doesn't really slow down for anybody.”
Prahalis, the Big Ten’s leader in assists the past two seasons, certainly would not disagree with that. Her arrival three years ago coincided with an emphasis on transition offense that has served the Buckeyes well.
She was happy to hear the Lady Vols want to get up and down the court at high speeds because that could open up scoring opportunities for sharp-shooting senior Brittany Johnson on the wing and All-American forward Jantel Lavender in the lane.
“We like to play fast,” the junior said. “Transition gets Brittany off and our other players.”
Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt stressed identifying Lavender on the break will be key for her team, and the 6-3 Glory Johnson said the Lady Vols expect to use a plethora of post players to slow down the Ohio State star.
“They have a huge post presence just like ours, but we have more,” she said in reference to herself, 6-6 Kelley Cain, 6-4 Vicki Baugh and 6-3 Alyssia Brewer. “We will try to use that to our advantage to wear out their posts, try to push it back on them. They can’t run with us. I know for sure they can’t run with us. We have quick posts and quick guards, and I think if we can push it, we can use that to our advantage.”
She credited Summitt’s grueling preseason workouts with having the Lady Vols in tip-top shape and pointed out UT has its own high-speed point guard in Meighan Simmons.
A 5-9 freshman, Simmons leads the team in scoring (13.7 points per game) and was named SEC Rookie of the Year.
Lavender said she does not expect to see anything she hasn’t seen before, from Simmons pushing the ball (a la Penn State) to a multitude of post players throughout their conference, although arguably never on one team.
“I think that the Big Ten really prepared us for that,” Lavender said. “We have a lot of different post players and a lot of different looks with that. We have big-bodied post players, post players who like to bang. We have post players who are really athletic. I think that Tennessee is kind of that same thing all in one. Our defensive approach will be how we approached the Big Ten and the different teams we played there. Just really try to play defense, great position defense and not foul.
“I think my conditioning is good. I’ve played 40 minutes quite a few games this year, and I have had quite a few post players to play against. I think that Kelley Cain is biggest body they probably have. I think that I can bang with anybody. I’m ready. I’m going to whatever it takes to win the game. If they throw seven different players at me, I’m going to throw seven different defenses at them to play against.”