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Harper Previews Instate Battle At Vanderbilt

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Tennessee’s women’s basketball team returns to the court Thursday night for its second straight road game as the Vols take on Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville.

The fifth-ranked Lady Vols are 15-1 and 4-0 in conference play heading into the rivalry matchup. Vanderbilt is 10-6 on the season an 1-1 in SEC play under first year head coach Shea Ralph.

“I think one of their strong suits is their defense,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said. “They held an Arkansas team to 55. They’re aggressive, they make plays, they get steals and just frustrate the offensive team. So, I think that’s number one. Number two, I think they’re pretty disciplined on the offensive end – they run their sets, they understand who needs to shoot the basketball and where they need to shoot it. And they’re going to be motivated. They play really hard, and they’re trying to prove something as well.”

Ralph starred at UConn and served as an assistant coach for Geno Auriemma before taking the Vanderbilt job. Harper and Ralph’s time in college overlapped with Harper and the Lady Vols winning three-of-four matchups over Ralph’s Huskies.

Now Ralph comes to Nashville to rebuild a struggling Vanderbilt program. The rivalry has been one sided in the past with Tennessee leading the all time series 74-10. Still, the rivalry means a little more to Harper who grew up in Sparta between the two school.

“I think for me, this game is always going to be different, and you know, in-state rivalries… growing up, half my family were Tennessee fans and half my family were Vanderbilt fans,” Harper said. “I always think this is a big game. I’m very familiar with Vanderbilt, and Memorial (Gymnasium) is so unique, obviously with the game setup, so it’s always going to be a game that I don’t want to say is more important, but it’ll always hold something a little bit stronger to me, I think, with my background.”

Tennessee fans always show out well in the misstate, but with Vanderbilt not allowing students to attend games, the road fans may have an even bigger impact.

“I’m definitely expecting a lot of orange,” Harper said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people that are coming. I think our players have a lot of folks that will be there. So, we anticipate a pretty good Big Orange contingent.”

Tennessee and Vanderbilt tip-off from Memorial Gymnasium at 9:05 p.m. ET Thursday night. The SEC Network is broadcasting the game.

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