<
>

Tennessee, Notre Dame resumes rivalry on Big Monday

AP Photos

Tennessee is trying to figure out, to a degree, what kind of a team it is. This is not something coach Holly Warlick was expecting to have to do this late in January. But that's the thing about being a coach: Sometimes, you might have to spend much of your season going back to the drawing board.

That doesn't mean the 18th-ranked Lady Vols, who visit No. 3 Notre Dame on Monday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET), have to keep reinventing themselves. They already know this much: They will get their best results predicated on being very strong defensively.

But they have to continue examining why they've hit the roadblocks that they've had so far in this roller-coaster 11-5 season.

Is Tennessee really more the team that controlled its SEC-opening game at Missouri nearly start-to-finish with an effective and confident pressing defense? Or is it more the team that lost at home to Florida and on the road at Arkansas with leaky second-half defense and frosty shooting? Tennessee shot 29.3 percent against the Gators, 34.8 against the Razorbacks.

Certainly, some of the credit for the Lady Vols' SEC losses has to go to the difficulty of the league, which really does provide a ton of challenges. But perhaps Tennessee's biggest issue seems to be something that Warlick does not want to be in the position of trying to fix. And that's how competitive and focused the Lady Vols are for the duration of their games. Tennessee is 2-2 in the SEC, middle-of-the-pack behind leader South Carolina at 5-0.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame has been doing pretty much what the Irish have done the past several years, despite personnel changes. The Irish can usually count on their offense being more efficient than that of most of their foes: They are shooting 49.5 percent from the field overall, 44.9 from 3-point range. Senior guard Madison Cable leads Notre Dame at 14.7 points per game.

And even if its offense struggles, Notre Dame has shown a certain moxie and ability to figure out a way to win. The Irish are 16-1, their lone loss coming at UConn in early December. And in their third season in the ACC, they have lost just one league game: last season to Miami.

This series has been marked by a dramatic change in outcome. Tennessee won the first 20 meetings, but the switch was flipped in the 2011 Elite Eight matchup that sent the Irish to the first of five consecutive Final Four appearances. Notre Dame has won its past five meetings against Tennessee.

The Irish have a tendency to really take advantage of teams that get into scoring droughts, and the Lady Vols have had trouble with that. In fact, you could say this whole season has been a kind of scoring drought for Tennessee, which is on pace at 66.7 PPG to have its lowest-ever average. Diamond DeShields leads Tennessee at 15.3 PPG.

The best news for the Lady Vols -- who have the No. 2-ranked schedule in the country -- is that they are allowing their foes just 57.6 PPG. That would rank fifth-best in program history. Against a lot of teams, that will probably still be enough. Against the likes of Notre Dame, though, Tennessee is going to have score better.