WACO, Texas – So much has changed for No. 10 Tennessee since playing Baylor nine months ago in an NCAA regional.
Except for the final result.
Brittney Griner and the third-ranked Lady Bears got off to a fast start in the rematch, scoring the first 17 points on the way to a surprisingly easy 76-53 win over the Lady Vols on Tuesday night.
"We just went up against a tough Baylor team, and didn't come ready to play in the first half," new head Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. "That had a lot to do with Baylor's defense and their presence."
And the Lady Bears' experience.
Baylor (9-1) still has all five starters from its 40-0 national championship team. The Lady Vols returned none from last season and now have a lineup featuring no seniors and one junior.
Tennessee had still won seven in a row, including four games against Top 25 teams, since opening its first season under under Warlick with a loss at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
In their rematch of last year's NCAA regional final, a 77-58 Lady Bears victory in what was Tennessee coach Pat Summitt's final game last March, the Lady Vols trailed 41-16 at the half. That was their largest halftime deficit ever.
"I think we just came in a little too antsy. It was a big game, and we just were a little too pressed," Cierra Burdick said. "We couldn't buy a shot and that really hurt us, and we let our offense dictate the rest of the game."
Tennessee missed its first 11 shots and trailed 17-0 before Burdick's long jumper 7 minutes into the game.
Griner scored the first six points of the game, and had nine of Baylor's first 11 points in less than 4 minutes. The Lady Bears won their seventh in a row since losing to top-ranked Stanford a week into the season.
The Lady Bears have won 45 home games in a row overall, and are 101-1 in nonconference home games in coach Kim Mulkey's 13 seasons.
"We just came out prepared and on fire," Griner said. "Any time we play Tennessee, it's a high-intensity game."
Along with the 6-foot-8 two-time All-American's 47th career double-double, Brooklyn Pope had 11 points and 16 rebounds for the Lady Bears (9-1), who have won five in a row in the series against Tennessee — three in the past 13 months.
The Lady Vols trailed 33-13 at Rutgers in January 2009, which had been the previous largest halftime deficit. Rutgers scored the first 14 points that night, but Tennessee rallied after halftime for a 55-51 victory.
No such luck against Griner and the Lady Bears, though Tennessee did outscore them 37-35 in the second half.
"In the second half, we played with a lot of heart. The first half, we quick-shot the ball ... They were trying to make everything up in one possession," Warlick said. "We're young. We're not using that as an excuse, but this is December and it's a learning process for us."
After Meighan Simmons made a 3-pointer and then two free throws early in the second half to get within 47-26, Tennessee didn't get closer until cutting the deficit to 20 in the closing minutes after Griner was on the bench for good.
The Lady Bears scored seven points in a row after Simmons' spurt, capped by Kimetria Hayden's 3-pointer.
Hayden had 16 points, with four 3s, and six assists. Jordan Madden had 12 points while Odysssy Sims, a preseason All-American, had eight points, eight assists and two steals with only two turnovers in 35 minutes.
Simmons had 16 points while Kamiko Williams had 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for the Lady Vols.
The Lady Vols hadn't played in 14 days before their Texas two-step which started with a 94-75 victory at then-18th-ranked Texas on Sunday. They are back home Saturday against Stanford.
Baylor and Tennessee honored the victims of the Connecticut mass shooting with green and white T-shirts representing the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Players wore them during pregame warmups, and throughout the game when on the bench.
The shirts had the letters S.H.E.S. and the words "We will remember" along with the picture of a ribbon.
Coaches from both teams wore green and white ribbons, and there was a moment of silence before the game for the victims and families affected by the tragedy Friday in Newtown, Conn.