The Lady Vols were seeking redemption after their loss to Baylor at Waco earlier this week. Coach Holly Warlick said her team needed to get back to its primary aims of strong rebounding and a stout defense. It could not let its opponent get a big opening lead as the Lady Bears had done by jumping off to a 17-0 starting score.
The home team took encouragement from the oh-so-close performance of South Carolina against Stanford on Wednesday. The Gamecocks had shown that the Cardinal’s #1 ranking was not to be feared. Holly and her team also were encouraged that Tennessee had actually out-scored Baylor in the second half in Waco 37-35.
Coach Warlick, her players and their many loyal supporters were determined and encouraged to do better and to end the week much better than they began.
So there was no holiday charity or Southern hospitality to be found in Thompson-Boling Arena before the game today. The beautiful fall weather in Columbia had been replaced with chilling winter wind in Knoxville. The lower bowl of the arena was packed with orange-wearing Tennessee fans (13,000 in all) roaring their support and ready for an upset. The small contingent of about 40 Stanford fans was barely noticeable.
Into this hostile environment came the nice girls from Stanford. The Cardinal, in its biannual visits, had not won in this place since 1996 and the Lady Vols and their supporters were intent on keeping it that way. The friendly comfort of Maples Pavilion seemed very far away. In this place and in this mood it was easy to see Stanford as the underdog. I was nervous before the game.
However, my confidence quickly returned and the team was properly confident from the beginning. Stanford got off to a 6-0 lead. Tennessee was not closer than 4 points in the first half and trailed 33-21 at the half. At halftime Chiney had 13 points, Amber 8 and Bonnie 6. Bonnie made two quick threes just before the half ended.
Tennessee did better in the second half, partly I think because Stanford was getting tired. Early in the second Stanford was up by 19. Tennessee made a run mid-way in the half, cutting the lead to nine. The crowd got into it, cheering and clapping, and the noise level went way up. But the Vols run was short in duration and with 7 minutes left Stanford had regained control. With two minutes left Stanford was visibly tired and the Lady Vols were still battling, but the outcome was not in doubt.
The final score was 73-60.
Tennessee accomplished one of its objectives by rebounding better—each team had 41. Tennessee played good defense, but Stanford’s was better. I thought Stanford looked much better prepared for this game than it was against South Carolina. There was plenty of sloppy play by both teams, but Stanford was clearly the better team today. The Cardinal looked much more like #1 than it did in Columbia.
Chiney was the top player once again. She was in for more than 39 minutes, had 21 points and an amazing 19 rebounds, along with 5 assists, 2 blocks and was 3 of 3 from the line.
Toni played 37 minutes and scored 11 points. Amber was in for 30 minutes, had 14 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists/2 turnovers, a block and 3 steals. Amber and Toni both played confidently and very well at the point. Tennessee pressed a lot, especially in the second half, but seldom rattled the Card.
Jos regained her shooting ability, getting 10 points, 3 rebounds and a steal in 36 minutes. Mikaela had 4 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 27 minutes. Bonnie made 3 of 3 from beyond the arc, ending with 11 points, and 3 rebounds in 15 minutes. She is continuing to play good defense.
Nneka, her father and her two younger sisters were at the game, sitting just in front of me. The young sisters made posters calling attention to #13.
Pat Summit sat on the opposite side at mid-court in the second row. Tara went over and gave her a hug before the game. Pat must have left early in the game because I didn’t see her after the action started. I think she only put in an appearance today.
And so the Thompson-Boling jinx was finally overcome with Stanford earning its first win there in 16 years. Beating Tennessee is always good. Beating Tennessee on its home court is something very rare and very special and well worth a trip to chilly Knoxville in December.