Mississippi State has never beaten Tennessee in women’s basketball, not once in 34 meetings. And never is a very long time.
But I’m going to go way out on a limb and say the Bulldogs have as good a chance to beat the Lady Vols this week as they’ve had in quite a while.
The teams square off Thursday night in Starkville.
As you might expect, it’s a series with some ugly results and few close calls. I call it a “series” and not a “rivalry,” because 0-34 is not a rivalry.
Last year, for instance, Tennessee won 88-45 in Knoxville.
Yet, there are reasons for optimism.
The biggest thing is that Pat Summitt – a living legend of the game – is no longer on the sidelines, coaching Tennessee. Holly Warlick is a fine coach, but she’s not Pat.
Tennessee is 13-3 ranked No. 12 nationally, yet the Lady Vols already have as many SEC losses (2) has they had all of last season. And they’re coming off a 74-63 loss on Sunday at Vanderbilt in which they betrayed a certain lack of interest in playing 40 minutes of team defense.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, is 14-3 (1-2 in league play), and admittedly didn’t play the toughest non-league schedule. But they showed some mental toughness in winning on Sunday at Arkansas, and mental toughness will be needed against the Lady Vols.
If nothing else, the game starts with the scoreboard reading 0-0. With Pat Summitt on the sidelines, opposing teams often felt like they started out behind by 10 – or more.
• I watched some of the U.S. figure skating championships last week. Well, my wife had it on and I knew better than to change the channel. Turns out, the “Axl Rose” is not a recognized skating move.
• During the MSU-Ole Miss men’s game, there was a marked difference in how Craig Sword’s name was pronounced. MSU broadcast: “Soared.” Ole Miss: “sWard.” Ron Burgundy would probably say “Ess-word.”
• I read the Lane Kiffin hire at Alabama the same as that fateful last-second field goal try – Nick Saban isn’t sure how to deal with what Gus Malzahn is doing at Auburn.
John L. Pitts (firstname.lastname@example.org) is sports editor of the Journal.