Lady Vols struggle with shooting, fall to Irish
SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Tennessee had decent shots in the first half — layups and jumpers — that frequently rimmed the basket and popped out.
It was a trend that never let up for the No. 7 Volunteers and the result was a 72-44 loss against No. 2 Notre Dame in the lowest-scoring game in modern Tennessee history.
The Vols shot 27.9 percent (17 for 61) from the field Monday night and were only 7 of 16 from the line. Nothing would fall.
"I want to apologize to the fans. We just were not very good today. We were not in Notre Dame's league," associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "We did not play hard and we did not compete. Notre Dame forced us into a lot of hurried plays."
According to the school press guide, Tennessee lost to Louisiana Tech 69-46 in the Final Four in 1982 and fell to Belmont 77-45 in January 1976.
Rebounding, including eight early offensive caroms, kept the Vols close in the early stages of the game because they could not make a shot. They missed 14 of their first 17 attempts from the floor and finished the first half 7 for 35 (20 percent). And the poor shooting extended to the line, where the Vols were only 4 for 10. The field-goal percentage and total points were first-half lows for the Vols this season.
"I think (our bad start) was a combination of a bad shooting night and Notre Dame hurrying us up," Warlick added. "I don't know how you can't be disciplined, how you cannot stick to the game plan when you are playing the No. 2 team in the country on their floor. You can't make mistakes. You can't miss easy buckets. You cannot miss free throws and so we got the result tonight of not being disciplined and focused."
Skylar Diggins matched her season high with 27 points and Devereaux Peters added 16 points and a career-high 16 rebounds to lead Notre Dame (20-1), which has won 17 in a row.
Notre Dame got a breakthrough win over the Vols in the NCAA regional finals last March in Dayton, Ohio, and now has won two straight against Tennessee after losing the first 20 meetings between the schools.
The Irish haven't lost since Nov. 20 to top-ranked Baylor and have now beaten both UConn and Tennessee on their home floor this season after toppling both in last year's NCAA tournament.
"This feels good. This team is actually undefeated against Tennessee," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "I think we are in a really good place right now. I think we are doing a lot of things well on the offensive end and then defensively I think that we are doing a lot of good things. We are on a good trajectory right now. We are playing good basketball and I think we played better than we did against UConn."
Since that seven-point win over UConn in overtime on Jan 7, the Irish have won five straight by at least 20 points. But Monday night was their most impressive and the Vols could do little to contain the Irish or make a strong run.
Tennessee (14-5) got 13 points from Meighan Simmons in a frustrating performance.
"It kind of took our energy," forward Glory Johnson said of the numerous missed shots, some of them right in front of the rim. "Eventually everyone just started yelling at each how and that's just not how our team is. You can't do anything with negative energy."
Diggins made a nice strip of an inside pass, dribbled the length of the court, passed to Peters and then got it back for a layup to make it 44-26 with just over 14 minutes left. Then after picking up her third foul, Diggins hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game to make it a 21-point lead. Diggins was 10 of 17 from the field and 5 for 7 on 3-pointers.
After Tennessee closed to within 16 with about seven minutes to go, the Irish went on one final 14-0 run to put it away. Kayla McBride added 17 points for the Irish.
McBride, showing an ability to break for the basket, had nine straight Notre Dame points at one juncture and scored 11 in the first half. Diggins ended up with 10 at the half, hitting two free throws with 2 seconds left to put the Irish up 28-18.
Tennessee's leading scorer, Shekinna Stricklen, who missed the previous game against LSU with a sprained knee, returned to the lineup and managed five points — five points under her average. And Vols guard Taber Spani, who has been sidelined with a bone bruise in her left knee since Dec. 26, was also able to play.
Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's, received a nice ovation when she came on the floor before the game and waved to the crowd, most of which was dressed in lime green.