It will be only the fourth time that the two programs have met and the first time as SEC foes. It also will be the Tigers and coach Robin Pingeton's first trip to the Knoxville arena.
The two teams played twice in 1978 and then not again until a 2010 meeting in the Virgin Islands. Pat Summitt was the coach for that trio of games – all won by Tennessee – while Pingeton was with the Tigers for the last one.
"We certainly have so much respect for that program, for Pat, for that community, for what Holly is doing there," said Pingeton, who noted she had to ensure her players weren't initially in awe of the surroundings.
It is doubtful that one of those players would be Morgan Eye, who came off the bench to drain 11 treys on 18 attempts against Auburn in her last SEC game. The sophomore guard connected 177 times from long range as a freshman for the Tigers.
Pingeton told writers during Wednesday's SEC coaches' teleconference that Eye was in the gym shooting at 7 a.m. the morning after her record-setting performance last Sunday.
"She's a high character kid," Pingeton said. "She's relentless with her work ethic."
Eye, who, according to Pingeton has gotten better this season at reading defenses and using screens, set a record for made threes in a game between SEC teams. The previous record was nine, set by Wendi Willits of Arkansas against Georgia in 1999. The overall league record is 12 treys connected by Cornelia Gayden of LSU against Jackson State in 1995.
Lady Vol senior Taber Spani, who is from Lee's Summit, Mo., can appreciate a sharpshooter.
"Obviously they're a great shooting team, making 18 threes against Auburn," Spani said. "I think 47 percent of their combined shots during their season have been threes, so we understand that.
"They're a little bit different than the previous two SEC teams that we've played, so they're going to be a great challenge for us."
Spani smiled when asked if she wanted to get a win against her home state school. She offered a polite answer about wanting to win every game, but the smile said a lot.
"Absolutely, but every game," Spani said.
Spani's minutes have nearly doubled since sophomore forward Cierra Burdick went out with a broken right hand – she could be back in early February and was playing one-on-one left-handed against Andraya Carter, whose right shoulder is in a sling, on Wednesday – and the senior has responded.
"I think I have gotten into a flow," Spani said. "With Cierra out everyone has to step up in their own way and I am embracing it and loving the opportunities that I am getting right now. I am glad that my shot is finally going in. It's been tough dealing with this back stuff. It is what it is."
That is as close as Spani has come to acknowledging that lower back issues have affected her comfort level on the court. She typically has responded with stoic looks and limited words.
When asked if the increased minutes meant more visits to Jenny Moshak and crew, Spani laughed.
"No, I live in the training room no matter what, just to survive honestly," Spani said. "Overall our conditioning is very good and there's about five people that have played 30-plus minutes a game, and we all feel very prepared and ready to do that every night."
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick is expected to start: Ariel Massengale 5-6 sophomore guard, No. 5, hails from Bolingbrook, Ill. (8.4 points per game, 2.4 rebounds per game, 4.0 assists per game); Meighan Simmons 5-9 junior guard, No. 10, hails from Cibolo, Texas (15.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg); Taber Spani, 6-1 senior forward, No. 13, hails from Lee's Summit, Mo. (8.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Bashaara Graves 6-2 freshman forward, No. 12, hails from Clarksville, Tenn. (14.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg); and Isabelle Harrison 6-3 sophomore forward, No. 20, hails from Nashville, Tenn. (10.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.5 blocks per game).
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton is expected to start: Lianna Doty, 5-7 freshman guard, No. 1 (8.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.9 apg)), hails from St. Louis, Mo., has 37 steals on the season, started 13 games this season, sixth overall in the SEC in assists; Sydney Crafton, 5-10 senior guard, No. 21 (10.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg), hails from Jefferson City, Mo., only player on roster with more than one year of Division I experience, has connected on 59.3 percent of her shots; Kyley Simmons, 5-7 sophomore guard, No. 15 (3.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg), hails from Council Bluffs, Iowa, fourth in SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.52, went the distance of 45 minutes last season in an overtime game against Iowa State; Bri Kulas, 6-1 junior forward, No. 13 (14.2 ppg, 6.5), hails from Shawnee Mission, Kan., scored 18 points against St. Louis in her first career start, has grabbed 104 boards this season, played for Kansas State as a freshman, Johnson Community College as a sophomore; and Liz Smith, 6-1 senior center, No. 45 (6.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg), hails from Overland Park, Kan., tallied career high 19 points this season against Murray State.
SHOOTOUT AT THE ARC: Missouri's Morgan Eye got the headlines with 33 points and her record-setting performance, but she has plenty of company behind the arc.
Eye, a 5-9 sophomore from Montrose, Mo., was 11-18 from behind the arc in Sunday's game against Auburn. Her teammates added 18 more attempts, and the Tigers were 18-36 overall.
Eye has played in all 16 games this season without a start and averages 14.2 points. She has attempted 137 threes and connected on 64 this season (46.7 percent). Only 18 of her shots this season have been attempted inside the arc.
Maddie Stock, a 6-0 freshman guard from Town & Country, Mo., has played in 15 games this season without a start and has attempted 79 threes and connected on 29 (36.7 percent). She averages 6.7 points per game. She was 3-6 from long range against Auburn.
With that firepower off the bench, Missouri has won that stat – bench scoring – 13 times this season.
As a team the Tigers are 160-444 (36.0 percent) from long range. They lead the nation at 10 made treys per game.
By contrast the Lady Vols have attempted 203 treys and hit 69 (34.0 percent). Meighan Simmons has shot 72 threes. No other Lady Vol has yet reached 50 attempts with Taber Spani coming the closest at 47.
CROWD ASSIST: The Lady Vol defenders will need to get to the arc against Missouri, and the crowd can help them.
When Tennessee played Rutgers, Meighan Simmons brought the fans to their feet when she wouldn't let the ball handler get around her. The play happened in front of Tennessee's bench and Taber Spani could be heard yelling her encouragement to Simmons.
Simmons heard the commotion – and allowed herself to enjoy it.
"I try not to get into it too much and get too excited," Simmons said. "But it was fun. My teammates always talk about it now. It was an amazing feeling to be up in somebody's grill."
Lady Vol fans, perhaps after nearly four decades of following Pat Summitt on the sideline, have a keen appreciation for defense.
"You don't see a lot of people admire female basketball defense," Simmons said. "When a guy's team does it, they get super excited. Everybody goes crazy. Things that women can do just like the men can do, it helps them to get even more excited."
The Lady Vols, who have been prone to giving up threes because of their help strategy, desire to clog the middle and gambling and trapping defenses, will have to get to the arc against Missouri. The crowd can help remind them.
"It helps a lot," Simmons said. "It also brings more energy with us. We have to start with energy in the beginning, but I think the crowd gives an extra bump. I think it is very good for us."
ALL HAIL HOLLY: Holly Warlick was the subject of considerable praise Wednesday during the SEC coaches' teleconference with the media.
She has Tennessee in the top 10 and off to a 2-0 start in SEC play.
"I knew that Holly would do a great job," Alabama coach Wendell Hudson said. "I think that's a credit to Holly. I think she was prepared for it."
"We root for the SEC," Balcomb said. "We root for a rival out of conference. You want to have upper echelon teams."
Arkansas coach Tom Collen noted that Tennessee is not bereft of talent despite nearly turning over the roster and staff.
"I think she's probably got more talent than anyone else in the league," Collen said.
Collen did add that Tennessee's start in the SEC was impressive.
"They've really been putting it on some people," he said. "If they have an Achilles heel, it's that they're not deep."
Florida coach Amanda Butler is a Tennessee native. The Lady Vols are headed to Gainesville this Sunday. She noted that Tennessee still means national attention and fans will look to see how Tennessee is doing to gauge the strength of the league.
"There are programs that are looked to as the benchmark of success," Butler said. "I think it is great for our league that they are doing well."
ON TAP: All 14 SEC teams are in action tonight. The other matchups are: Georgia at Alabama; LSU at Arkansas; Ole Miss at Auburn; Florida at Mississippi State; Texas A&M at Kentucky; and Vanderbilt at South Carolina.
Tennessee leads the series with Missouri, 3-0. The Lady Vols are 1-0 at home against the Tigers. … Thursday's game also serves as a benefit for Second Harvest Food Bank. Fans who donate two non-perishable food items and will get a free 300 level general admission ticket. … The Stokely family is being honored at games this season with the Lady Vols saluting them on Thursday. Stokely Athletics Center, which hosted the men's and women's basketball teams before the move to the arena for the 1987-88 season, has been closed and the building, which hasn't been up to code, will be demolished. William B. Stokely III and his family will be honored for their contributions, which allowed the field house to be expanded into an athletics center in 1966. … There is a personal orange connection between Tennessee and Missouri. Tami Chievous, the academic liaison for Mizzou's women's basketball team, is married to former Tiger men's hoops and NBA player Derrick Chievous. He is the father of Tennessee men's basketball redshirt freshman Quinton Chievous, and Tami is Quinton's stepmother.
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Wednesday practice clips