Oakland outworked and outhustled Tennessee for much of the day, but it couldn't come close to outscoring the third-ranked Lady Vols.
Bashaara Graves had 15 points and 11 rebounds Sunday as Tennessee capitalized on a second-half lineup change and rolled to an 84-50 victory over the winless Golden Grizzlies. Oakland trailed by only one point late in the second half before Tennessee went on a 21-0 run to put the game away.
"Obviously, it was a tale of two halves," Oakland coach Jeff Tungate said. "The first half, I thought we played extremely well and did some really good things. I thought our zone defense was very good. But we knew at halftime we're going to see a different team come out in Tennessee."
Victoria Lipscomb had 13 points and seven rebounds to lead Oakland, which is 0-5 for the first time in school history. Olivia Nash and Elena Popkey each added nine points, while Kim Bee had six points and nine rebounds.
In a game that figured to serve as little more than a tuneup for the Lady Vols before they headed to the Bahamas for the Junkaroo Jam, Oakland instead made Tennessee (5-0) work for its fifth straight victory.
Oakland only trailed 28-27 with 2:07 left in the first half when Amy Carlton missed a 3-pointer that would have put the Golden Grizzlies ahead. Tennessee's Jordan Reynolds sank a 3-pointer 10 seconds later to help Tennessee lead 34-27 at halftime.
"We were just playing basketball," Lipscomb said. "We were having fun. That was one thing we talked about coming in was just having fun. Even though it was a one-point game, I don't think a lot of people on the court realized it was a one-point game."
Oakland's zone defense bothered Tennessee for much of the first half. Tungate said Oakland typically plays a man-to-man defense about 75 percent of the time, but he employed a zone virtually the whole game Sunday.
"In a typical situation, we wouldn't play zone as much," Tungate said. "To keep up with their athleticism and size, we felt we had to go to 40 minutes of zone for the most part. Our kids played extremely hard."
Oakland outrebounded Tennessee 24-20 and outblocked the Lady Vols 4-1 in the first half despite facing a major height disadvantage. Oakland had three starters 5-foot-8 or shorter and didn't play anyone taller than 6-1. Tennessee has six players 6-2 or taller.
Tennessee attempted only one free throw in the first half
Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick responded to her team's sluggish start by altering her lineup to open the second half. Mercedes Russell, Jordan Reynolds and Andraya Carter joined usual starters Graves and Ariel Massengale on the floor. Meighan Simmons, Isabelle Harrison and Cierra Burdick were on the bench at the beginning of the second half after opening the game in the starting lineup.
"They put in what they thought was our best defensive lineup," Massengale said. "They knew that starting in the second half, we had to get after it and score points on that end of the floor."
The move paid off.
The Lady Vols showed much more energy and scored the first 15 points of the second half, as Graves scored six points during a 21-0 run that broke the game open. Oakland committed three turnovers in the first 41 seconds of the half and faced a 22-point deficit by the time Bee scored the Grizzlies' first second-half points with 15:19 remaining.
"The second half, we settled down and we decided to play, but the sign of a great team is we've got to play 40 minutes," Warlick said. "We're very capable of it. We've got the talent to do it. I'm just waiting for us to bust out and play the perfect game."
Tennessee never looked back and finally utilized its height advantage as the game wore on. Tennessee outrebounded Oakland 24-13 in the second half and finished the game with 44 rebounds to Oakland's 37.
"It's an outstanding basketball team and one that we'll be seeing here in the Final Four, I'm sure," Tungate said.