Tennessee opened the 2012-13 season with a stunning 80-71 loss at Chattanooga in the Lady Vols’ first game of the post-Pat Summitt era. They finally get their chance to avenge that loss Thursday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“I think we have a different mindset,” Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale said. “Last year, we weren’t very mentally tough. When we got hit in the mouth, it was kind of hard for us to bounce back.”
Chattanooga returns three players who started in the win last year. The Lady Mocs have a new coach in Hall of Famer Jim Foster, who took over the program after Wes Moore left for North Carolina State. Chattanooga, which went 29-4 and reached the NCAA tournament last year, opened the season Friday with an 82-70 victory over Alabama.
Tennessee opened with road wins over Middle Tennessee and No. 12 North Carolina before hosting the Lady Mocs.
“We’re determined,” Lady Vols’ guard Andraya Carter said. “We want to win. We want to beat them. They came out and they beat us last year. They played really well and they deserved to win that game, but this year we don’t want that to happen. We will think about it and we will talk about it.”
Chattanooga expects that kind of approach from Tennessee.
“I know they weren’t happy with the way things went,” said Chattanooga forward Taylor Hall, who scored 24 points against Tennessee last year. “They’re probably looking to get us back. They never overlooked us, I don’t think. There were several close calls (in this series) in the past. We’re definitely a team that they’re aware of now.”
Those close calls generally didn’t take place in Knoxville.
Tennessee lost last year’s game in Chattanooga and escaped with a 66-63 victory at Chattanooga in 2008. But Chattanooga hasn’t beaten Tennessee on the road since 1973. Tennessee has beaten Chattanooga 10 straight times in Knoxville by an average margin of 33 points.
“I don’t think we’ve had much confidence in the past just entering those games,” Hall said. “We kind of thought of how they’ve gone every other time we went in that building. Hopefully, we don’t think like that this year.”
Hall says the Lady Mocs won’t be intimidated this season based on their victory over Tennessee last year. Chattanooga shot 56.3 percent in the second half and forced 26 turnovers that night to beat Tennessee despite getting outrebounded 53-31.
Tennessee believes it has made major strides since the last time it faced Chattanooga.
The Lady Vols went on to finish 27-8 and reach an NCAA regional final last season. They’ve started this season with two road wins despite not getting big performances in either game from SEC preseason player of the year Meighan Simmons or 2012-13 SEC newcomer of the year Bashaara Graves.
They each scored eight points and finished a combined 6 of 22 from the field against the Tar Heels, while 6-foot-6 freshman Mercedes Russell had two points on 2-of-9 shooting from the free-throw line.
Tennessee has shown it can bounce back this year, erasing a 12-point halftime deficit at Middle Tennessee. During that close call, the Lady Vols reminded themselves they wanted to avoid a repeat of last year’s season-opening setback.
“It’s not ancient history for us,” Carter said. “We even brought it up in the (Middle Tennessee) game when we were down at halftime. We were like, ‘We’re not having another Chatt. It’s not going to happen. We’re not going to lose to this team.’ “
Now the Lady Vols have a chance to show Chattanooga just how far they’ve come.