FAYETTEVILLE -- Its fifth road trip in the last seven games, the University of Arkansas women's basketball team (15-5, 2-5 SEC) takes to the road again and heads to Knoxville where it will face No. 10 Tennessee (16-4, 5-2 SEC) at Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday.
Life never proves easy in the Southeastern Conference and this season confirms that notion. The Razorbacks are currently playing through a stretch of scheduling that features five straight road games against teams currently ranked in the top 17 nationally. Most recently, Arkansas fell in a 68-58 defeat on the road Sunday at the hands of No. 8/9 Kentucky.
No time to reflect, Arkansas quickly turns its attention toward travelling to face Tennessee on Thursday. The Lady Volunteers average 81.8 points per contest with four players averaging double-digit scoring, led by Meighan Simmons with 14.8 points per game. Six Lady Volunteers shoot 42.1 percent or better from the floor, led by Mercedes Russell with an impressive 58.3 percent.
No matter the opponent or venue, Arkansas has relied on its defense to keep itself in close games and Thursday figures to be no different. On Sunday, the Razorbacks battled on the road and held a ranked Kentucky team that came in averaging 87 ppg to just 68 points. Arkansas leads the SEC and ranks second in the NCAA for scoring defense, allowing opponents just 50.4 ppg.
Something the Razorbacks continue to chase this season is a win over a top-25 ranked team. Meanwhile, the Lady Volunteers have already earned three wins over ranked opponents. The last time Arkansas defeated a ranked opponent on the road was in a 72-71 overtime thriller over Tennessee in Knoxville during the 2011-12 season.
Only junior Calli Berna and lone senior Keira Peak remain from that historic win. Berna saw 22 minutes of action, hitting a key three-pointer late in the game and finishing with five points and one assist. Peak scored two points and had four rebounds in her 28 minutes of work.
A new face in the scouting report for Tennessee, Jessica Jackson has certainly introduced herself to opposing SEC teams this season and ranks third in the league for scoring (16.7 ppg). The freshman has been on a scoring tear this season, recording double digits in 18 games and 20+ points in four of the last five games. The Jacksonville, Ark., native will be relied upon yet again, as the young group of Razorbacks venture into one of the more hostile venues in college basketball.
A strong team leader in her own right and team captain with Berna, junior post player Jhasmin Bowen has contributed 10.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game this season. Bowen's role under the basket and on the boards will be key, as the Razorbacks will need her physicality and rebounding against a group of Lady Volunteers that has out-rebounded opponents by an average margin of +12.8.
Tennessee also averages 8.1 steals per game, which means Berna will be relied upon to set the pace, value the basketball and keep teammates involved. Berna leads the SEC and is ranked fourth in the NCAA with 151 assists this season, averaging a league-leading 7.6 dimes per game. The Fayetteville, Ark., native also leads the conference and is eighth in the NCAA for assist/turnover ratio (3.2).
Outside the starting lineup, role players McKenzie Adams, Melissa Wolff and Kelsey Brooks could each or all be x-factors for Arkansas coming off the bench. Adams has displayed her capability for dead-eye shooting from distance, while Wolff provides the rebounding and hustle needed to gain an edge against a deep team such as Tennessee. An underrated defender, Brooks has also done a nice job coming off the bench, driving to the rack and getting herself to the free-throw line, where she averages 73.7 percent shooting.
The Razorbacks look to put together a winning formula and gameplan to steal a notable win on the road, as Arkansas and Tennessee are scheduled to tip off 6 p.m. Thursday.
The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports South and ESPN3.com (subject to blackout). In addition, the game will air in Northwest Arkansas on KOSM-FM 92.1; in Rogers on KURM-AM 790; in Fort Smith on KFPW-FM 94.5 and 1230 AM; and in Little Rock on KREB-FM 103.7.
For more information on Arkansas women's basketball, follow @RazorbackWBB on Twitter.