Lady Vols To Host Florida State, Vols Get Syracuse In SEC/ACC Challenge

  • Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Lady Vols will play host to Florida State on Dec. 4 as part of a 16-game SEC-ACC Women's Basketball Challenge over a two-day period.

The Tennessee men's basketball team will host Syracuse in the second annual SEC/ACC Challenge, as announced Wednesday evening by ESPN.
 
Beginning last season, the SEC/ACC Challenge replaced the now defunct SEC/Big 12 Challenge, which was contested from 2014-23. The Volunteers and Orange will play Dec. 3 at Food City Center, with the tip time and specific ESPN network to be announced at a later point.
 
The Lady Vols and the Seminoles are slated to play in one of six match-ups on that Wednesday, with 10 more taking place on Thursday. Tip times and broadcast designations will be released later.

UT and FSU met in Tallahassee on Nov. 9 last season, with the Seminoles staving off the Big Orange, 92-91. The Lady Vols, who lead the all-time series, 2-1, bounced back from a 15-point first-half deficit to lead by six in the fourth quarter before a last-second three-pointer lifted the hosts to victory at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
 
Florida State returns nearly its entire core from last year's NCAA Tournament team, including preseason All-America candidate Ta'Niya Latson, who was the nation's No. 14 scorer a year ago at 21.4 points per contest. The Seminoles are ranked No. 18 in ESPN's Way-Too-Early Top 25, which was released on May 6.
 
Tennessee, which will embark on the 2024-25 campaign with new head coach Kim Caldwell at the helm, was not ranked in that poll. The NCAA DI Rookie Coach of the Year at Marshall last season and the NCAA DII National Coach of the Year at Glenville State in 2022 welcomes back a veteran nucleus, two talented redshirt guards and four experienced newcomers via the transfer portal. That incoming quartet was not finalized until after ESPN's poll came out.
 
The Lady Vols return a pair of starters from 2023-24, including second and third-leading scorers Jewel Spear and Sara Puckett. Spear, a 5-foot-10 fifth-year guard, averaged 13.1 points and 4.4 rebounds, draining a team-high 69 three-pointers as a senior and ranking fourth in the SEC at 2.09 treys per contest. Puckett, a 6-2 forward, produced career bests of 9.9 ppg. and 4.9 rpg. while shooting 45 percent from the field, 35 percent on three-pointers (38 made attempts) and 86 percent on free throws. They were the only two UT players to start all 33 games.
 
Tess Darby, a 6-1 fifth-year guard/forward, leads a trio of players who averaged double-figure minutes off the bench last season. A 73-game starter during her career and one of the program's all-time best long-distance shooters, Darby averaged 5.2 ppg. and 3.4 rpg. while ranking second on the squad with 44 three-pointers in 2023-24. Joining her as returning reserves are 6-5 senior forward Jillian Hollingshead (4.6 ppg., 4.5 rpg.) and 6-0 senior guard Kaiya Wynn (4.4 ppg., 2.6 rpg.).
 
Also back are 5-6 senior guard Destinee Wells (6.8 ppg., 3.5 apg., 2.6 rpg.), 5-7 junior guard Edie Darby (1.1 ppg.) and 5-10 junior guard Avery Strickland (0.9 ppg.). Wells continues to work her way back from last year's lower leg injury that ended her season after 10 games.
 
Among six players who will see the court for Tennessee for the first time are two redshirt guards, including Talaysia Cooper, a 6-0 redshirt sophomore transfer from South Carolina, and Kaniya Boyd, a 5-9 redshirt freshman early enrollee in January from Las Vegas. Cooper was the No. 18 overall player, No. 4 point guard and had a five-star rating in the 2022 espnW 100. Boyd, meanwhile, was the No. 35 overall player and had a four-star rating in the 2024 espnW 100.
 
Caldwell and her staff have added four talented players via the portal since arriving on Rocky Top.  That group includes 5-7 senior guard Samara Spencer from Arkansas, 5-11 junior guard Ruby Whitehorn from Clemson, 6-2 sophomore forward Alyssa Latham from Syracuse and 6-4 junior forward Lazaria Spearman from Miami.
 
Spencer was the second-leading scorer for the Razorbacks in 2023-24, averaging 13.9 points while contributing 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals per contest. Whitehorn started 29 of 31 contests for the Tigers as a sophomore, averaging career bests of 12.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Latham produced 8.6 points per game and 7.0 rebounds to rank fourth and first for the Orange, respectively, while Spearman put up 6.3 ppg. and a team-leading 6.0 rpg. for the Hurricanes while shooting 50 percent from the field. 

Tennessee holds a 4-3 record in its all-time series with Syracuse, including notching wins in each of the last three meetings.
 
The two sides most recently met last season on Nov. 20, 2023, in Honolulu as part of the Allstate Maui Invitational, with Tennessee recording a 73-56 victory. Dalton Knecht, despite missing nearly eight second-half minutes with cramps, paced Tennessee with a game-high 17 points. Fellow fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James tallied his sixth-career double-double with 15 points and a game-best 12 rebounds, helping the Volunteers rallied back from an early eight-point deficit to hand the Orange their first-ever loss in the prestigious tournament.
 
Tennessee is 2-1 versus Syracuse in Knoxville. Prior to last year's Maui Invitational, the most recent meeting between the two schools was a 66-62 Tennessee upset win over the eighth-ranked Orange in Knoxville on Jan. 19, 2002. Jenis Grindstaff led UT that day with 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting, including a 3-for-6 mark from long range. He added five rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals.
 
Tennessee is 122-101 all-time against current members of the ACC, including incoming schools Cal, SMU and Stanford. UT head coach Rick Barnes owns an 81-77 head coaching record against those 18 schools, including a 5-10 ledger versus the Orange.
 
One current Vol—senior guard Zakai Zeigler—hails from the state of New York, having grown up in Long Island.

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