Vandy faces Lady Vols on prime time TV

When Vanderbilt (12-5, 3-1 SEC) hits the hardwood against No. 5/6 Tennessee (16-2, 4-0 SEC) Saturday at 7 p.m. CT, it will not only experience the thunderous roar of Thompson Boling's 21,000 basketball fans, it will face a national television audience on ESPN's College Game Day in a Vandy-UT doubleheader. The men tipoff at 11 a.m. CT on ESPNU.

The faceoff comes at a time when the Vanderbilt women are playing their best ball, shooting with confidence and welcoming the return of players injured early in the first half of the season. After dropping the SEC opener in Oxford, Miss., Vandy is on a run with three consecutive wins after knocking off Alabama on the road, 82-66 on Thursday. The ‘Dores will need to refocus as its talented freshmen face the shock and awe of the arena's intimidating atmosphere.

"Gabby Smith and I were talking about the Tennessee game and how loud it is in there," said redshirt freshman standout Stephanie Holzer. "I could barely hear on the sidelines and she said it was even worse on the court. I think that the atmosphere is going to be huge, but it's also something that will be so fun to play in. The whole team is looking forward to going to Tennessee and playing on the ESPN College Game Day. It's going to be really cool."

Stephanie is averaging a double-double with 13.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. She recorded her fourth of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds in Alabama.

About to play for the fourth time in Thompson-Boling, Hannah Tuomi recalls that in her Knoxville debut she was "sort of dumb-founded. You can kind of compare it to a game in a high school state tournament when the stands are packed, but the scale of it is so gi-normous compared to that." Despite being awed, she excelled with a 10-point, 11-rebound performance.

Senior scoring leader Jence Rhoads, sidelined last year in Knoxville with a broken hand, is excited as well. "I'm looking forward to playing there this year. We've been in every game with them except maybe one or two in our three years here, so there's no reason why we shouldn't beat them."

Although 7-55 against the Lady Vols and 0-25 in east Tennessee, in five match-ups since 2008-09, Vanderbilt has won once, and lost three of four games by single digits.

A new scoring leader will emerge. In last season's 57-64 loss, senior Merideth Marsh poured in 23 points while Elan Brown sank 10 as the only other ‘Dore in double figures. Hannah was held to two points in 10 minutes of action and Stephanie was benched with an ankle injury.

Jence currently leads Vanderbilt with 15.6 points and 5.3 rebounds while Hannah trails with 14.4 points and 5.4 rebounds. If scoring averages hold true, Jence will become the 33rd Commodore in the program's history to reach 1,000 points; she needs seven points to hit the mark that teammate Hannah surpassed on December 29 against Delaware. The forward is now 26th on that elite list with 1,082 points, just 10 points behind Dee Davis ('04-'07).

"I can't think about that obviously," Jence said, adding "I'll go into this game with other focuses. Once I do reach that plateau, I'll be honored to be mentioned with those other talented people." The senior ball handler scored more than 2,000 points at Slippery Rock (Pa.) High School.

Regarding an improvement in shooting, Hannah, among the nation's top five in field goal percentage, said the squad is getting better about shot selection. The team sank 56.9% of shots at Alabama and hit 52% against Auburn. "We're shooting when we're open. We're not rushing our shots and we're taking the best shot for our team," she said.

Vandy leads the SEC in free-throw percentage and ranks second in field-goal percentage and three-point percentage.

One of the keys to Vandy's improvement and likely competition for the Lady Vols' 6-5 Kelley Cain, 6-4 Stephanie has faced Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen in AAU play already. After sitting out a few games in the pre-conference season with back spasms, the center said, "I'm seeing the results and finally feeling like I'm able to move again. It's nice to not have to think about how tight I felt or what type of pain I was in. Now I can refocus on basketball."

Stephanie witnessed action on the sidelines last season and is more than thrilled to be in the mix for Saturday. "Tennessee by far is a great program and has a great history, but I think we've also got a great history here. It's going to be a really good game and whoever comes ready to play, is mentally tough and mentally prepared is going to win this game. "


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