The No. 13 Georgia women's basketball team walked off the court in Starkville, Miss Thursday night breathing a sigh of relief.
After building a 27-point first half lead against Mississippi State, Georgia let the home team back into the game and MSU took a late lead. Bulldogs' redshirt senior Mikayla Coombs hit a jump shot to take a one-point lead with 42 seconds left. Then grad senior Que Morrison sunk two free throws to escape from what would have been Georgia's worst loss of the season.
"Crazy, crazy game," Morrison told the ESPN broadcast after the game. "It feels good to come out on top."
With the potential trap game behind them, Georgia turns attention to Sunday when No. 5 Tennessee comes to Stegeman Coliseum. The Lady Vols have an unblemished 6-0 SEC record and their lone loss came to Stanford on Dec. 18.
Here's what you can expect when Georgia and Tennessee meet on the hardwood for the 71st time:
Battle on the boards
Tennessee has two of the top rebounders in the country in juniors Jordan Horston (9.7 RPG) and Tamari Key (8.6). Horston, though listed four inches shorter than Key, also averages 15.2 points per game. Key left the Lady Vols’ game against Kentucky last Sunday in the first half with an ankle injury and is a “game time decision,” per the Knoxville News.
For Georgia, graduate senior Jenna Staiti has once again put up career numbers through 16 games played, averaging 7.6 boards per game. She has five double-doubles on the year and scored eight points and 10 rebounds in the win against MSU.
Much of the season, Staiti has been double teamed in the paint. When on defense, she is tasked with shutting down the opponent’s center. Sunday, that could be Horston, Key or both.
Beyond the top of the stat sheet, both Georgia and Tennessee rank in the top 35 nationally in rebounds per game. The Lady Vols lead the nation with 50.4 boards per game and the Lady Bulldogs have the 33rd-most rebounds per game (42.1).
The two SEC rivals also both are in the Top 10 nationally in blocks per game. Georgia (6.3 BPG) ranks seventh and Tennessee (6.1) is ninth.
Needless to say, whoever controls the paint should have an edge in the outcome of Sunday’s contest.
Streaks on the line
As mentioned before, Tennessee is riding an eight-game win streak. The Lady Vols have won by an average 26.13 points per game and five of their six SEC victories have come by double digits.
All of this has earned UT a No. 1 seed in ESPN’s bracketology, released earlier this week. They’re the only SEC team who is undefeated in conference play.
Conversely, Georgia has been victorious in its last three outings.
Part of the recent success is due to the Lady Bulldogs flipping the script when it comes to starting games. After falling behind early in the first four games of conference play, resulting in two losses, Georgia has built early leads in its past two games.
Georgia led Missouri 23-10 after the first quarter and led for the entirety of the game. Against MSU, they launched to a 33-9 lead.
“We have to figure out how to start games,” Staiti said after the 21-point comeback against Alabama. “We can’t depend on that third and fourth quarter because we can dig ourselves into a hole and might not be able to get out of it.”
Against a team as talented as Tennessee, Staiti and the Lady Bulldogs may not be able to escape an early deficit like they have against other opponents.
Georgia won its last two games against the Lady Vols, though, which could be vital in the Lady Bulldogs’ confidence.
Home court advantage
Women’s basketball in Athens has always been important, with the Lady Bulldogs having been to five final fours and being one of just three programs to post a winning season every year since 1980 (Tennessee and Green Bay).
Fans file into Stegeman to see Joni Taylor’s squad and most of the time leave satisfied with another UGA win. The support was most recently highlighted on Dec. 30 when UGA hosted LSU, one day before not only New Year’s Eve, but the football team playing Michigan in the Orange Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff. It was also winter break, so many students had gone home.
Still, 3,241 fans attended the Lady Bulldogs’ home opener.
“If you look across the country, (women’s basketball) is packing out coliseums left and right and that’s what we want to do here,” Taylor said after the game. “The crowd was amazing, especially considering a lot of our fans are in Miami right now. Bulldog nation has always been great to us. But that’s women’s basketball now. When you go into a lot of Power 5 arenas, you’re going to have a crowd every single night.”
Sunday should have another impressive-looking crowd in Stegeman for the Top 15 rivalry game. But as of Friday, tickets were still available for purchase online and the ticket office at the coliseum opens at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Georgia is 8-2 at home this season.
This week has been the 11th annual We Back Pat week, honoring hall of fame former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. The initiative aims to bring awareness to the Pat Summitt Foundation and the fight against Alzheimer's disease. Summitt coached the Lady Vols from 1974 to 2012, winning eight national championships in that span.
Fans are encouraged to wear purple as part of the week-long initiative.
Underrated players to watch
Georgia, Javyn Nicholson: After posting two double-doubles in the first four games of the season, the junior from Lawrenceville has cooled off. Still, Nicholson is a great presence when Staiti and Morrison head to the bench and is capable of playing 15+ minutes, if necessary.
Tennessee, Rae Burrell: The senior has only played in six games this season after dealing with a knee injury, but she’s made her return well known. In five games of SEC play, Burrell has scored 7.6 points per game and averaged 16.4 minutes per game.
When and where
Tipoff is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. ET in Athens, Georgia at Stegeman Coliseum. The game is being broadcast on SEC Network.
More women’s basketball
McClain Baxley is a recruiting reporter for the Athens Banner-Herald and the USA TODAY Network. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @mcclainbaxley.
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: No. 13 Georgia Lady Bulldogs host No. 5 Tennessee