Knoxville, TN -- With 6:43 left in the first quarter, Holly Warlick stood with her hands on her hips, already frustrated by the Lady Vols’ performance against the No. 10 Stanford University Cardinals at Thompson-Boling Arena. After what she called an “embarrassing” loss to Baylor a few weeks ago, Warlick was ready to see her Lady Vols play a more energized and motivated game to avoid deja vu.
Yet, as they neared the end of the first quarter, Tennessee already had six turnovers and only two baskets. The opening quarter of this game seemed all too familiar for the Lady Vols’ fans who witnessed the Baylor game: a slow-moving, unenthusiastic team not playing to their full potential. By the end of the first 10 minutes, Tennessee was trailing by a score of 17-11.
However, what was waiting in the second quarter was a surprise to all — especially to the confident and composed Stanford Cardinals who had the early lead. Their composure and confidence were about to be shaken by what seemed to be an entirely different team that stormed the court in the second period.
“I thought Tennessee played very inspired,” said Stanford’s Head Coach Tara VanDerveer. “They're a very talented team. I think their record is very deceptive, but they're very talented. Mercedes Russell is an anchor in the middle for them. They have good numbers from Diamond DeShields. She played a good game. For the most part, I think they were very focused."
With a newfound spring in their steps, the Lady Vols began the second quarter with DeShields and Jordan Reynolds leading an offense that could not be stopped. Tennessee scored on all seven of Stanford’s turnovers and with just under three minutes left in the first half, had a 27-25 lead.
Stanford would go on to end Tennessee’s 11-0 run with a jump shot and layup by Stanford’s Nadia Fingall and Erica McCall, respectively, brought the Cardinal’s score to 29. Still, the Lady Vols would not back down as Jaime Nared matched those points for to tie the game at 29 going into halftime intermission.
As the teams returned to the court for the third period, the question on everyone’s mind was whether or not the Lady Vols could keep up not only this new burst of liveliness, but this new demonstration of passion and teamwork.
Fans in attendance moved from the edges of their seats to their feet, cheering for the Lady Vols who showed they were ready to maintain their energy and knock off their ranked opponent in Stanford. By the third quarter, Reynolds continued to put on a show as she reached a new season high of 13 points.
As for the Cardinal, offensively they struggled to keep up with Tennessee. Once again the Lady Vols went on another big run (10-0), while Stanford could not overcome their shooting slump posting a mere nine points in the quarter. In a statement quarter for the home team, the icing on the cake was Alexis Middleton’s beautiful and flawless three-point shot just moments before the buzzer, bringing the Lady Vols to their largest lead of the game at 45-38.
After searching for heart, soul, and determination, the Lady Vols finally seemed to find it this Sunday, and after finding what they were so desperately missing, Warlick and the team refused to let it go. The Lady Vols finished the final 10 minutes by doing what nobody thought they could do -- upsetting the No. 10 Stanford.
Tennessee was able to pull off the upset behind the relentless play of DeShields who led her team with 15 points. She was supported by Reynolds, Russell, and Nared, whom all scored in the double digits with 14, 11, and 10 points, respectively.
A big key to the Lady Vols success today was showing what they were made of defensively, with 27 defensive rebounds and five blocks.
"We were a lot more aggressive on defense in the second quarter. We were able to get stops and played really together on defense. If somebody got beat, somebody was there to help. We really just played together and it showed,” stated Tennessee’s Nared.
Needless to say, “Rocky Top” echoed through Thompson-Boling Arena as fans left elated, finally having seen a performance by the Lady Vols that they all know and love.
In the eyes of one player, today’s game was a must-win. "Absolutely. A top-10 team came into our house and we were very vulnerable. We had a couple bad losses early. As you said, this was a must-needed win for us, for our confidence, for our program, for the tradition, for everything.
“Going into SEC play, I think it kind of upped the tempo pushing forward to all of our opponents that we're about to play.”
The question is, will this win serve as a springboard into a new mentality of success for Tennessee, or will they relapse back into a team bound by complacency and lack of effort?
Fans will have to wait until Wednesday when the Lady Vols take on Troy in Knoxville to find out!