Vanderbilt had a very Vanderbilt game against No. 7 Tennessee in Knoxville. After the Vols outlasted the Commodores, Vandy now gets another ranked team as they face the very dangerous No. 12 Missouri Tigers in Nashville.
Here are the three keys:
Stop the big runs
We are going to keep on this point until the Commodores are able to win a game where the opponent is prevented from having a massive, game-changing run.
It has been an Achilles Heel of the Vandy team all season and this issue reared its head again on Sunday. Vandy has never beaten Tennessee in Knoxville – in 33 attempts at this point – but they were ahead by four points with just around a minute left in the third quarter. That is when the offense shut down and the defense was unable to cover, with Tennessee rattling off a quick 11-0 run and never looking back in the fourth quarter.
All Vanderbilt had to do was trade shot for shot with Tennessee for a couple of minutes. Even if that was too much, one big shot would have stemmed the scoring tide and kept the Commodores in the game. Missouri is another team that has an offense that can shoot an opponent out of the contest in a hurry. Stopping that scoring is vital if the ‘Dores are to defend their home court.
Stop Sophie Cunningham
You don’t have to do a whole lot of research to see just how important junior guard Sophie Cunningham is to Missouri. All you have to do is look back over the Tigers two games last week.
The Tigers were rolling along on a 13-game winning streak when they faced a seemingly overmatched LSU squad last Thursday. Cunningham was missing from the Missouri lineup with a knee injury she picked up the previous week and the Tigers dropped a 69-65 decision to LSU. On Sunday Cunningham was back in the lineup against No. 4 South Carolina. She had a game-high 27 points and directed the flow of the Mizzou offense as they beat the Gamecocks 83-74.
Cunningham is the absolute key to the Tigers offensive system. To beat Missouri a team has to take her away from her natural game.
Up-tempo doesn’t mean out of control
We get that Stephanie White wants to play fast and dictate the pace of the game. It is a worthwhile strategy – one that can be very effective if used correctly – but White doesn’t yet have the players to fit her system. The result is that the Commodores are struggling to avoid turnovers and that they are having all kinds of problems on the defensive end.
It felt like this was an area that was addressed somewhat against Tennessee, but more of a sample size will be needed for proof. Missouri is a team that will make Vanderbilt pay for turnovers and for defensive lapses. Playing fast while staying in control has to be the message being preached by White this week.