Tennessee Pulls Its Upset of the Season Beating Notre Dame
Reports contributed to post
Holly Warlick finally got a statement win at home, erasing No. 6 Notre Dame’s personal win streak in the series Monday night and defeating the Irish, 71-69, in Knoxville
Several times, UT fell behind. Each time they rallied.
Diamond DeShields scored 20.
“She’s a marked woman, so she had to step it up,” Warlick said. “I was more proud of her defense. When she’s on, she’s on and we just follow her.”
On a tie up caused by Mercedes Russell, Tennessee had possession on their end. After a timeout, Jamie Nared made a jumper for the final points.
“If it was a zone, we went inside, if they were in man, we went for the screen,” said Warlick.
“Jamie has ice in her veins.”
And the biggest shot of the UT season. She scored a dozen, including all four free throws.
Jordan Reynolds also had 12 and Russell 13.
The most impressive statistic underlines the winning comeback. As Warlick was proud to point out, they won the final quarter, 19-7. They won the half, 40-25.
No one has done that to ND in many seasons.
Russell had two blocks and two steals in the final quarter. She also had the composure to leave the paint and come out to commit a foul as UT burned the clock with three successive fouls they had available in the final nine seconds, leaving just four.
The Irish could not get a shot off quickly enough.
ND coach Muffett McGraw has often said this season she has the best player in America and the best point guard in America.
There was none of that talk this time.
“I thought Tennessee did a great job down the stretch. When they made their run, they rebounded,” she said.
“They held us to one shot, and I thought that was the difference in the game. We were outrebounding them in the first half, but in the second half, we could not get a rebound, especially at the offensive end.
“We were disappointed in our effort defensively and our inability to guard the ball screen really killed us down the stretch. We talked about it, but we weren’t able to guard them in the ball screen.
“ We just made a lot of mistakes. To their credit, they took advantage of all of the mistakes we made.”
She complimented DeShields.
“I thought she got to the free throw line, and made her free throws. She couldn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but we had difficulty staying in front of her. We had a freshman guarding her, and that was probably a mistake on my part. We couldn’t find her in the zone, and we let her run free. She’s incredibly talented.
“I thought it was a lot of layups. We missed a lot of layups. We drove the ball like we wanted to, but we couldn’t get to the free throw line.
“That was really bad. In the fourth quarter, they only had one team foul going into the end of the game. That won the game for them. So, if we could have gotten to the free throw line in the fourth quarter, I think that it would have been a different finish.”
The best crowd in America this week – 10,517 – made an impression as well.
“I thought it was a great atmosphere,” McGraw said.
“Anytime you make a run like that, the crowd gets excited. The crowd gets into the game. You have to be really poised when you have possession of the ball. You have to really value the ball. You have to take care of the ball. The crowd was very influential for them.”
Warlick said, “We were tired of getting beat by Notre Dame and tired of getting beat in general. If we had lost, a lot of people would have said that we should have lost but we cannot go out and lose three games in a row.
“Our team is full of winners and I think that our heart showed tonight. We were willing to sacrifice and do what we needed to do for each other to get this win. It was not about any individual, tonight we played team basketball and I think that is where the offense came from.
“We found who was open and those players delivered.”
So, after the win, this particular team can fashion an identity.
“I believe we can go somewhere we have never been,” Warlick said. “Regardless of what that looks like, I do think we can go there and we can get there as a team. We cannot look back. The Stanford and Kentucky wins were great but we have to move forward. There’s no turning back now. Our team sometimes just falls back into a slump and we cannot afford to do that.
“So moving forward hopefully we can keep the momentum going and continue playing the way we did tonight.”
Nared also looks for continuity
“I know we are a mentally tough team. The story of our season has been which Tennessee team will come out.
“Tonight just showed that we are mentally tough, despite our record. We needed to get this win. We got stops when it counted. It was not the most perfect game but when it counted we got stops. It shows that we are tough and we compete.”
The Irish had won every game in this annual series since 2008.
The win evens the SEC’s 20-game season against the Atlantic Coast Conference.
It gives UT 11 wins and an outside chance at 20 regular-season wins, but a definite chance at 20 after the league post-season tournament. That would guarantee an NCAA berth, as any SEC team with 20 wins has always gotten into the NCAA elimination tournament.
It might, in a few weeks, move them back into the national rankings. With some fortunate wins, they move close to hosting the Sweet 16 qualifying rounds.
All this on an inconsequential (for conference) win. Warlick must now reign in the emotions before they resume the conference hunt with three winnable games before going to South Carolina.
The cautionary tale is they were outhustled at Ole Miss in the previous game.
To The Future
The McDonald’s High School All-America teams confirm Tennessee has the best incoming freshmen next season.
The Lady Vols have four state players of the year and more McDonald’s elite selections than any team in America.
This class is second only to a legendary Pat Head Summitt 1980 class which had five state players of the year and ultimately two All-Americans in college.
In the interim, Summitt produced McDonald’s groupings of five twice, with Holly Warlick as the top recruiter.
The newbies: Rennia Davis (Jacksonville, Fla.), Anastasia Hayes (Mufreesboro, Tenn.), Kasiyahna Kushkituah (Alpharetta Ga.) and Evina Westbrook (South Salem, Ore.)
This class, combining with the outstanding juniors among six this season, has potential to elevate back among the elite. Former statirng point guard T’ea Cooper will return after sitting out a season rehabbing a knee
Plus, two junior college players are coming, guard Jazmine Massengill, Chattanooga, and forward Amira Collins, Fairfax, Va.
Will name tags be needed with half of the roster first-timers?
It can be traced directly to hiring respected recruiter Sharonna Reaves.