The orange of Tennessee women’s basketball still resonates with the athletes of this generation, as Holly Warlick has maintained the Volunteers as a national power after legendary coach Pat Summitt announced her retirement.
Tennessee’s program has the most wins in women’s college basketball history and has played in the NCAA Tournament 34 straight seasons, including eight national championships.
That level of prestige will be on display Friday at Koch Arena, as Wichita State plays host to No. 16 Tennessee.
“It’s such a great opportunity for our women’s basketball program,” WSU coach Jody Adams said. “You look at their ranking and their tradition and all of the great things that have been built there, it’s just an awesome opportunity for us to be able to play against that on our home floor.”
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This trip wouldn’t be possible without Adams, who was coached by Warlick, then an assistant, and won a national championship at Tennessee in 1991, as well as WSU assistant coach Bridgette Gordon, whose number is retired and has two championship rings (1987 and 1989) on her hand.
It is a return trip in a home-and-home deal after the Shockers traveled to Knoxville last season and the strongest team in the Adams era nearly came away with a victory before falling 54-51.
Friday will be another story. WSU lost all five starters from that team and returns just one, junior Jaleesa Chapel, who played in the game.
Wichita State has transitioned to a brand-new roster, or at least tried to, as it will once again be playing with just six players. Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage (knee), Brittany Martin (leg), and Marija Pacar (concussion) are all injured, and Rangie Bessard is waiting to be cleared as a transfer by NCAA rules.
“Our game plan is in and our players, I believe, are great in that game plan,” Adams said. “What is going to be tested in a game like this is our discipline to stay within the game plan and that’s the opportunity.”
That has been difficult for WSU to accomplish even when it hasn’t been playing nationally-ranked teams. WSU has lost five of its first six games, including a 66-62 loss at home to Southeast Missouri State.
Tennessee is likely to deliver another loss. But Adams is confident her team is progressing.
“Do we like losing? Absolutely not,” Adams said. “They hate it. They know I hate it. It’s not because we don’t want to. Some of us have cried. Some of us have been mad. And that’s a good thing because when you invest in something, it hurts.”
Adams still believes in the talent she has assembled. It will help when the injured return and Bessard, expected to immediately lift WSU’s offense, is cleared.
But for now, Wichita State’s youth must continue to learn through adversity. Friday is sure to present an orange mess of it, and to Adams, that’s OK.
“We know we’re right there,” Adams said. “This game is going to be a great teacher for us. Right now we are forming the pieces and they’re starting to come together. I’ve seen leadership develop and I’ve seen this team begin to mature and those things, to me, are so exciting. Those things are showing up in the win column for me and I believe in these guys and this team.”
No. 16 Tennessee at Wichita State women
- When: Friday, 7:05 p.m.
- Where: Koch Arena
- Records: UT 6-2, WSU 1-5
- TV: Cox 22