Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie and South Carolina coach Susan Walvius have something in common – each coach has faced both LSU and Tennessee this season.
The Tennessee Lady Volunteers (17-0) have spent the entire season ranked as the No. 1 team in all of women's college basketball. LSU (14-0) had its skeptics early on, but have rattled off 14 straight victories and enter the week ranked No. 3 in the land.
While arguably the game of the year is still more than three weeks away – the team's meet Feb. 9 in Knoxville – it is never too early to begin looking inside the matchup.
There is no better way to get some sort of bearing on this game than talk to the two coaches who have played both the Lady Vols and LSU.
McCallie and Michigan State met Tennessee early this season in the Paradise Jam, a holiday tournament in the Virgin Islands. The Lady Vols had a little business to tend to with Michigan State. Last season, the Lady Spartans were responsible for denying Tennessee a trip to the national title game beating Pat Summitt's team in the national semifinals. Michigan State went on to lose to Baylor in the national championship game.
The Lady Vols didn't forget last season and soundly defeated the national runner-up Lady Spartans 83-55.
Michigan State found it no easier coming into Baton Rouge. The Lady Tigers beat McCallie's team 73-52.
"They are as good a defensive team as you will find anywhere," McCallie said about LSU after the Lady Spartans loss in Baton Rouge. "I wish we could have made it a little better game, but they are very good."
For Walvius and the Lady Gamecocks, South Carolina's game earlier meeting with Tennessee didn't quite have the national flair as that of Michigan State's run-in with the Lady Vols. However, South Carolina led Tennessee by as many as eight points in the first half and trailed only 25-21 at halftime, but eventually fell by a respectable 15 points 66-51.
LSU followed suit with Tennessee in beating the Lady Gamecocks 79-46 in a dominating defensive effort in Baton Rouge.
"The one thing that really impresses me with LSU is their patience to go to their strengths, and you saw that with their late shots and excellent execution offensively whether they were in a man or a zone," Walvius said.
All right, enough with the coach-speak. Walvius was asked directly what she thought about the two clubs and the outcome when they meet next month.
"I was hoping I wouldn't be asked that," Walvius said. "I don't think it is a fair question, but we played LSU on the road and played Tennessee at home. I think playing a team at home is worth at least 10 points."
McCallie tried her best to stay away from the hot-button question as well.
"That will be a great basketball game," McCallie said. "They are both tremendously physical, very good teams. It will be hard to tell how that is going to shake out. I see it being a very physical game. I think the home court is going to matter a little bit. But a very interesting matchup."
Walvius did say she thought no one in the nation was as good as LSU and Tennessee.
"Who is ranked No. 2?" Walvius said. "Duke? There is no question, in my mind, that LSU and Tennessee are competing for the No. 1 spot. No question in my mind. They are the best two teams in college women's basketball."
Both Walvius and McCallie said both teams were ultra-talented, but are very different at the same time.
"The teams are very different I can tell you that," Walvius said. "Tennessee has a little bit more size and athleticism on the perimeter, not more than LSU, but certainly more than we do."
"There might be more balance at Tennessee, you could argue that because they don't have two players like Seimone and Sylvia," McCallie said. "But they have other players in Candace (Parker)."
Speaking of Candace Parker, everyone knows about Seimone Augustus and what she brings to the table, but the real focus in this game will be the battle of giants. The 6-4 Tennessee forward Candace Parker, armed with height and great touch and range, will go head to head with the brute size and dominating inside presence of the 6-6 Sylvia Fowles of LSU.
"She (Parker) has more versatility in her game, but whoa, there is no substitute for big Sylvia," McCallie said. "Sylvia is a nice tall aggressive body and does a great job. They are very different and very hard to compare. But then you throw in Seimone and she is just tremendous. They are an interesting one-two combination."
Asked to make some sort of prediction on the game, both said it was too close to call, but both assured it would be a great game.
"It is a tough call," McCallie said. "I can't predict a matchup like that. It will be great women's basketball."
Said Walvius: "I am looking forward to watching that game myself. It is going to be a great matchup. I absolutely would buy a ticket for that one. It will be a great game for college women's basketball."
Major showdown dead ahead
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