There’s a certain reverence when talking about Tennessee women’s basketball. After six national championships, more than 900 wins and 32 years of stalking sidelines, Hall of Fame coach Pat Summitt has certainly earned that respect.
So it seemed a bit out of character when Summitt expressed concerns about the fifth-ranked Volunteers’ visit today to Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe to play No. 11 Arizona State.
“Everybody tells me that Arizona State is one of the toughest places to play in the country,” Summitt said earlier this week. “That’s good. This team needs a challenge and typically they respond.”
Strangely enough, that’s almost exactly what Sun Devils coach Charli Turner Thorne was thinking about in preparation for this game.
“It’s going to be a great gauge of where we are at,” Turner Thorne said. At noon, ASU will see the odds-on favorite for national player of the year, Candace Parker, and a team that lost in the regional final last season to end three straight trips to the Final Four.
“We know they are going to be well-prepared, they are confident, they have great athleticism, they’re going to be ready to play,” forward Emily Westerberg said. “We know that every position they have is deep. They are experienced and they are just amazing athletes and Pat Summitt is here to win.”
Tennessee comes into the meeting with wins over Tennessee-Chattanooga and a 23-point home win over No. 21 UCLA on Thursday.
“Tennessee is a team many people envision year in and year out being in the Final Four — a place we have yet to be,” Turner Thorne said. “If there is any doubt — which I don’t think there is — that we can beat anybody in the country . . . (a win) would surely alleviate it from anybody in our program.”
The Sun Devils’ up-tempo offense and pressure defense will be tested by the big Volunteers, led by Parker. The 6-foot-4 sophomore has already garnered preseason All-America honors after averaging 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds a game as a rookie.
ASU’s Aubree Johnson has a tall order, as she likely will draw the job of guarding Parker.
“You can’t completely shut her down,” Turner Thorne said. “But we’re not going to change a ton of things. You just try and limit her easy looks. We are going to be prepared.”
This is a milestone game for ASU. If it wants to considered among the best teams in the nation, it starts with playing the best teams in the nation. The Sun Devils travel to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a Thanksgiving weekend tournament that includes perennial NCAA tournament teams Western Kentucky, Rutgers and Penn State.
There is also a meeting at Chase Field with Texas Tech. Not to mention a tough Pac-10 schedule.
“We didn’t have a gauge coming into the season of where we were going to be because we are so new and we have a lot of younger players,” Westerberg said. “So that gauge of confidence going into Tennessee is really huge.”
No. 5 Tennessee at No. 11 ASU women
When: Noon today
Where: Wells Fargo Arena
TV: FSN Arizona
Records: ASU 4-0, Tennessee 2-0