‘that person in the middle’

Guards driving the basket are the bane of the aggressive style of defense played by such women’s basketball teams as Mississippi State and Tennessee.

“There’s going to be some heartache with dribble penetration,” State coach Vic Schaefer said. “When you give that up, it’s so good to have that person in the middle.”

For Mississippi State, that person is 6-foot-4 senior center Martha Alwal, who has surpassed 300 blocks for her career. She’s been limited by injury to 18 games this season and still has 43 blocks.

Overall, State is second in the conference in blocks per game, averaging 4.9. By comparison, Tennessee is seventh, averaging 3.9.

Tennessee’s version of Alwal is 6-3 senior center Isabelle Harrison, who had two blocks Thursday night against Kentucky. But she has just 18 for the season after recording 105 during her three previous seasons. As a sophomore, she had 52.

Harrison missed five games earlier this season with a sprained right knee. Foul trouble at the beginning of conference play likely has inhibited her as well.

Tennessee would benefit from a bigger impact in this regard. All the more reason to look forward next season to the return of 6-6 center Mercedes Russell, who is sitting out this season after undergoing surgery on both feet. She’s returned to practice and UT Holly Warlick said the second-year player is showing no ill effects from the surgeries. Russell played the role of Alwal during Saturday’s practice

As a freshman, Russell played a reserve role and averaging 18.5 minutes per game. And she still had 40 blocks. She’s big enough to do better than that.

Meanwhile …

— Junior forward Jasmine Jones is expected to miss her 11th consecutive game Sunday because of concussion-like symptoms.

— In case you missed it, Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell and his wife Jenna donated $10,000 to former UT coach Pat Summitt’s foundation during “We Back Pat” week.