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Lady Vols withstand Green Bay Grit in 1st round

The fourth quarter was all the difference for Tennessee as they pulled away from Green Bay. Tennessee has been playing with a chip on their shoulders since the SEC Tournament.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

TEMPE, Ariz. - The No. 10 University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (28-5) and No. 7 University of Tennessee (20-13) matchup in the Round of 64 was a heavily anticipated one- and rightfully so.

For fans, players and coaches alike, it was just about everything you could have hoped for. Two highly decorated programs- combing for 36 regular season titles in their respective conferences- undoubtedly put on a show, but Tennessee walked away victorious with a final score of 59-53.

"I can't say enough about what kind of team Green Bay is," Tennessee Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "It was a tough game, and we knew it would be. But our ladies stayed the course, and when we needed to get stops, we did. I'm proud of our effort and proud of our win today."

"We are proud of our players," Green Bay Head Coach Kevin Borseth said.  "Our kids showed a lot of heart, and we did a good job of taking care of the ball and rebounding. A lot of the things we had in the game plan were really good today."

Tennessee jumped out to a quick start in Wells Fargo Arena, but Green Bay stole its first lead of the game with 2:43 to go in the first period behind Jessica Lindstrom's five points.

For the Lady Volunteers, it was all Diamond DeShields, who racked up 80 percent of Tennessee's offense. Tennessee ended the first 10 minutes of play on top 14-13, holding the Phoenix to just one made three-pointer on three attempts.

Green Bay's Samantha Terry, who averages 4.6 points per game, hit a dagger three-pointer at the shot clock buzzer to open up the second quarter. This sparked quite a run for the Phoenix, as they would go up 24-16 with five minutes remaining in the half.

Tennessee had answers, however, as Kortney Dunbar drained a three-pointer just seconds after being subbed in, Jaime Nared cashed in a pair of free throws and Mercedes Russell connected for two to pull the Vols within one.

After scoring eight first quarter points, Green Bay held DeShields to zero points in the second quarter and Tennessee to 34.5 percent shooting. A team known for their three-point shooting (7.8 made per game) and tenacious defense (holding opponents to 52 points per game, good for 10th in the country), the Phoenix was on pace to match both with a pair of three's and a halftime score of 27 all.

Tennessee's Russell shot a perfect 3-3 from the field for six points in the first half, just two points shy of her season average to help swing the momentum in Tennessee's favor.

The Volunteers were the first to strike to open up the second half, but Green Bay's Mehryn Kraker, the 2016 Horizon League Tournament MVP, fired back a three-pointer after going just 1-8 from the field in the first half.

Freshman Te'a Cooper tied the game back up at 38 with a three-point play the old fashioned way and, as a team, Tennessee's size started to flex its muscles on the offensive glass. Second chance opportunities were the difference in the third quarter for UT, but Green Bay hung on to a 45-44 lead entering the final 10 minutes.

It was much of the same story to start out the fourth quarter as both teams continued to trade buckets, but neither backing down in the least bit. DeShields, who hadn't scored since the first quarter, livened up the Lady Vol offense to put them out in front 50-49 with just over four minutes until the buzzer would sound.

The Lady Vols jumped out to a 54-49 lead with 1:54 to go in the game behind Shields and Cooper. DeShields finished with 14 points, four rebounds, and three assists while Cooper ended with 15 points, three rebounds, and two assists.

"I think we made some mistakes, and they capitalized on them," Kraker said. "That's what Tennessee does; they hit big shots."

It seemed to be a two-part equation in the final quarter: Green Bay went cold from the field (finishing 32.2 percent on the game), and Tennessee capitalized on a roughly six-minute scoring drought.

Tennessee, despite having shot quite poorly from the free throw line in the first half, also rounded out the second half shooting 10-13 from the charity stripe. For the Phoenix, LeClair led the way with 14 points, while Lukan chipped in 12 points and five rebounds and Lindstrom added 11 points and eight boards. Tennessee moves on to the Round of 32 on Sunday, March 20.