Knoxville, TN-- With ten seconds remaining, Tennessee found themselves inbounding the ball from the sideline in front of their bench.
Notre Dame was matched up in a man defense. Had it been a zone, Holly Warlick said they were going to look down low immediately. Instead, Jaime Nared got the ball on the wing. She took a few dribbles and found herself near the left elbow. With ice in her veins, the ball left her hand.
With Nared’s jumper, the Lady Vols overcame a lot of adversity, and downed the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 71-69.
How much adversity, you ask?
They found themselves down by as many as 15 on Monday night. In fact, heading into the fourth quarter, Notre Dame still held a ten-point lead, 62-52.
Not to mention, the Fighting Irish have topped the Lady Vols the last six times these teams have met going back to 2011.
But Tennessee would ultimately outscore Notre Dame 23-7 down the stretch to get a much-needed W, and to avoid losing their seventh game of the season.
It’s only fitting that Tennessee won with hustle play and determination in the face of adversity in the “We Back Pat” game, to honor legendary coach Pat Summitt.
“Pat had a desire. Losing was not an option to her. It was not with her battle to Alzheimer's and it obviously was not an option during the games. We talked a lot about that,” Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said following the win.
“We talked about her spirt, we talked about her resilience and we talked about her fight. To win tonight on this night is a blessing to honor Pat the way we did, and to play like a Lady Vol team should play, (together, hard and with heart).
“These kids played like losing was not an option, and I believe that's what Pat's belief was throughout her career and her life. We are very thankful that we got it done and to represent her legacy the way we did."
For most of the game, it can be argued that Notre Dame played better basketball. The Irish outrebounded Tennessee for the first three-quarters. They also shot better from the field and from three-point land. Overall, they never seemed to get too down on themselves if Tennessee went on a run. Lindsay Allen was a perfect facilitator at point guard running their offense and finding her open teammates.
The difference? Tennessee played better when it mattered most. And of course, Diamond DeShields.
In the opening minute and a half of the fourth quarter, DeShields scored six points, grabbed two crucial rebounds (one at each end of the floor) and recorded a huge block. It seemed like she singlehandedly closed the gap to only two points at 62-60 in just 90 seconds.
That was the closest the game had been since the first quarter, and it was clear that the momentum was in their favor. Moreover, if you are looking for a stat to prove the momentum change, just take a cursory glance at the evenings rebounding numbers.
Tennessee would ultimately outrebound Notre Dame 37-31, grabbing 11 in the fourth quarter compared to Notre Dame’s 4. Heading into the final ten minutes, Notre Dame had the edge 27-20.
DeShields finished the night with 20 points, (eight of which came in the fourth quarter) six rebounds and four assists. And while her stat line is impressive, her hustle play at the beginning of the fourth put the game back within Tennessee’s reach.
"[W]hen she puts her mind to it she can do just about anything,” Warlick said.
“I think I'm probably more proud of Diamond in her defensive effort. Three blocks, and I just thought she was solid down the stretch and she made a commitment to the defensive end.”
Put simply: Notre Dame had played better basketball until DeShields took over. Without her, it’s likely the momentum doesn’t shift, and Nared doesn’t get a chance to sink her game-winning jumper.
“Our team is full of winners and I think that our heart showed tonight,” DeShields said.
“We were willing to sacrifice and do what we needed to do for each other to get this win.”