By Frank Gale
Basketball has taken center stage for a while at Tennessee; well, at least until football signing day gets here this coming week. Cuonzo Martin’s Vols responded with two games at home by defeating two of UT’s biggest rivals, both decided by one point. Apparently the phone call by Coach Martin to the league was good enough to give Jarnell Stokes some freedom to play his game.
Anytime you can beat Vanderbilt and Alabama in the same week in anything is a good week. However, all the news was not great as Trae Golden will be dealing with a hamstring injury for a while. Sophomore Brandon Lopez stepped in at point guard against Vandy and showed potential. Expect to see his minutes increased until Golden returns unless Lopez plays himself out of the rotation.
The Vols will travel to Arkansas to play on Saturday at 3 p.m. CST. To continue their modest two-game win streak, they will have to win their first SEC road game this year in a historically tough place for visitors to leave with a victory. (Razorbacks are 12-1 this year at home). The game will be carried by ESPN.
The Lady Vols continued their undefeated SEC campaign with a win at Vanderbilt last Thursday night, but followed that with a disappointing loss to No. 2-ranked Notre Dame at home last Monday. There was a great atmosphere with more than 13,500 orange clad fans on hand to witness Pat Summitt’s banner hoisted to the rafters prior to tip off. Unfortunately, the Lady Vols had no defensive answer on this night for Notre Dame’s All-American point guard, Skylar Diggins, who scored a career-best 33 points.
The Lady Vols are now 16-4 overall with three of those losses coming against potential Final Four contenders. The road ahead could be a little more difficult depending on the extent of Isabelle Harrison’s injured knee. While she mends, freshman Bashaara Graves should get some relief when Cierra Burdick returns from her recent injury. After last night’s home contest against Mississippi State, they are headed to Missouri for a 1 p.m. CST contest Sunday.
There is still a lot of basketball left to play in this season. Heading into February, both teams have an opportunity to finish strong. The Vols need to take advantage of an easier part of their schedule to enhance their post season resume. Meanwhile, the Lady Vols need to get healthy and continue to improve as they head towards their goal of hanging their own banner in the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters.
Jarnell Stokes credits his faith for his recent improvement on the hardwood but we might have seen "Devine" intervention even closer to home.
Football recruiting will be headed for a short no contact period leading into National Signing Day this coming Wednesday. It has been a virtual roller coaster ride for coaches throughout the Southeastern Conference as players continue to look at options. Coach Jones surely has some sleepless nights ahead until those signed letters of intent exit the fax machine at UT. Thankfully, only a few more days until Team 117 is introduced to the Big Orange Nation. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)