Lone Star State has been unkind to Lady Vols

Maria M. Cornelius2MCsports

The trip to College Station continues to bedevil Tennessee with inclement weather once again delaying the return home and forcing a longer stay.

It wasn’t as bad as in 2021 when the Lady Vols had to check into a hotel in the Houston area without heat due to the ice storm that enveloped the ill-prepared Lone Star State and used the team bus to study, do classwork and have some warmth in the daytime after a nearly three-day adventure.

But it did mean the team couldn’t fly Sunday evening after the 2024 loss to Texas A&M, had to find a hotel – this time with power – and wait all day Monday in an airport for a landing window to open in Knoxville, which was being battered with its own winter storm.

The Lady Vols are scheduled to fly today, Jan. 17, to Starkville, which is under a hard freeze warning – the Magnolia State isn’t built for harsh winters – while the Knoxville area temperatures also plummet, so traveling isn’t ideal for this game either. Tipoff for Thursday’s game against Mississippi State is set for 7 p.m. Eastern (TV: SEC Network). (UPDATE: Due to inclement weather, the SEC has moved tip time to 5 p.m.  Eastern.)

Tennessee is now 3-1 in the SEC on a day in which three of the four undefeated teams in the conference lost on Sunday – defending national champion LSU to Auburn and Vanderbilt to Missouri. South Carolina is 4-0 and the only undefeated team in the top 25. The parity that the late Pat Summitt wanted for women’s basketball has arrived and then some.

The Lady Vols have had issues this season with injuries, execution and turnovers, but effort has never been in question. Tennessee looked like it was moving in quicksand at times Sunday, and Rickea Jackson particularly seemed out of sorts.

Team health is rarely, if ever, made public but from this writer’s vantage point of covering Lady Vols basketball games for 26 years, it is feasible that one or more players was very much under the weather. Delayed travel never helps healing – nor does getting right back on the road – but hopefully whatever is ailing the team will resolve relatively quickly. The SEC is an unforgivable conference.

Kaiya Wynn defends against Auburn. (UT Athletics)

After LSU’s loss, Ole Miss Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin posted on social media: Instead of saying LSU is awful why not give Auburn credit? They are a TOUGH out & especially hard to play at their place. Ppl don’t want to admit it but our league is good! We can’t control the rankings but top to bottom the SEC is the best it’s been in a while.

Tennessee opened SEC play at Auburn and departed with a hard-fought win.

Tennessee assistant coach Samantha Williams, who played and coached at Auburn, is in agreement with McPhee-McCuin and responded on social: This league is tough, gritty and physical. Our Auburn win on the road isn’t taken lightly whatsoever. But the SEC has been this way for 40 years and that’s why it has multiple National Championships.

The orange boo birds are flocking in full force on social media and will retreat, as is their wont, after the next win. In the meantime, Tennessee is in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC. My advice remains the same: Let the season play out.

LADY VOL CELEBRATION: For those who have tickets to the celebration of Lady Vols athletics this Friday, Jan. 19, from 7-10 p.m. at the Lower West Club at Neyland Stadium, the event is still a go as the snowy weather – but not frigid temperatures – is supposed to clear out by Friday evening. Details of the event with coaches and players in attendance – Kellie Harper has been added as a speaker now – are in last week’s column HERE. (UPDATE: Due to weather conditions, this event has been rescheduled for Friday, Jan. 26.)

Maria M. Cornelius, senior writer/editor at MoxCar Communications + Marketing, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.


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