TEMPE, Ariz. – Given the amount of negative publicity the heralded Tennessee women's basketball program has received this season, a trip to the Sweet 16 is just what the basketball gods ordered.
The Lady Vols ran away with their underdog status versus Arizona State in the Round of 32 taking down the No. 11 ranked Sun Devils with a final score of 75-64. Tennessee is now 122-26 all-time in NCAA tournament games and just two wins shy of reaching 1,300 program wins.
"We knew today was going to be a difficult task," Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "I thought we were solid and didn't panic, we made runs, and they made runs. It was a great team effort; just really proud to be moving on."
"This win is huge for us," Diamond DeShields said. "It's just another chance for us to prove people wrong and pursue our ultimate goal. I'm happy for our team and coaches who have stuck with each other through the highs and lows. It's extremely exciting to get this win on the road and be moving on."
At the first media timeout, University of Tennessee held a 12-10 edge over Arizona State. Mercedes Russell and DeShields got the ball rolling for the Lady Volunteers in their first couple possessions to take a 4-0 lead.
However, Hempen picked up right where she left off after going 6-6 from downtown against New Mexico State on Friday (March 19) to put ASU on the board.
With 3:45 to go in the first period, the Sun Devils stole the lead 15-14 much in part to a pair of big-time threes from Arnecia Hawkins assisted by Elisha Davis. Her first tied the game up at 8-8 and the second was to steal the lead.
For the Lady Vols, they continued to hammer the ball inside to Russell, who put up 10 points in the first quarter alone. At the end of the first, Tennessee led Arizona State 20-17.
It was no secret coming into today's contest that Tennessee was going to pound the ball inside. In fact, Warlick's team scored 29 of their 33 points off of free throws and points in the paint after 20 minutes of action.
To Arizona State's dismay, Tennessee jumped out to a 24-19 lead off of back-to-back layups forcing a Sun Devil timeout to open up the second quarter. Turner Thorne's squad was all over Wells Fargo Arena on the defensive end, but the Lady Vols capitalized on ball pressure and double teams.
Davis helped shift the momentum in ASU's favor as she cashed in a three-pointer to pull the Sun Devils back within four 26-22. She finished her final game in the red and gold with 18 points and six assists.
After a rebounding foul on Tennessee, Davis rattled off four points of her nine first half points. Tennessee continued to have answers offensively, but Arizona State did not let down in the least on the defensive end. The Sun Devils forced several turnovers which ultimately led to a tie game at half 33-33.
A quick three-pointer by Tennessee's Jaime Nared put the Lady Vols back out in front to start the second half. Nared fired again, this time for two, to give UT a five-point lead 40-35 before Dornstauder kissed one off the glass to give her double digit scoring figures and a team-high 11 points. Just when things started looking a little shaky for ASU, as Tennessee led by as many as seven, Peace Amukamara hit a dagger three-pointer to make it 44-42.
Rebounding, and Tennessee's size, started to take its toll on the Sun Devils in the second half. Tennessee held a 26-21 rebounding advantage with 1:58 remaining in the third quarter- and it showed in the scoreline- as the Lady Vols were out on top 50-42 behind a pair of tough finishes on the block from Bashaara Graves to force an ASU timeout.
At the end of the third, Tennessee led 54-47, but Davis drained a deep three-pointer at the buzzer to get ASU fans back on their feet.
"We've been undersized all year, so like coach said, rebounding was huge today," Dornstauder said. "That really was the difference, and we didn't do the best job in that category."
Dornstauder and Davis continued to strike for ASU as the guard-post tandem pulled the Sun Devils back within four with 6:45 to go in the game. DeShields, after a six-point first half performance, erupted for 18 more when the Vols needed it most.
Sophie Brunner, ASU's leading scorer at 10.7 points per game, also came alive as she finished the game with 12 points and six rebounds. Jordan Reynolds pitched in a key 12 points, three rebounds and two assists for the Lady Vols.
"This team has been a blast to coach and definitely have not underachieved this season," Head Coach Charli Turner Thorne noted. "I'm really going to miss our senior class."
"I think we are playing the best basketball we've played all year," Warlick noted. "We've played 18 teams that are in this tournament, and that was a difficult schedule for a team who hasn't played a lot together. We struggled. But right now, we are playing our best basketball."