WACO, Texas — December felt more like early summer in central Texas on Tuesday with sunny skies and unseasonably warm temperatures.
Inside the Ferrell Center, however, winter still reigned over Tennessee. There, the Lady Vols' met their usual cold, dark fate against Baylor.
It was even worse than their previous visit as they missed their first 11 shots to set in motion a 76-53 women's basketball loss to the defending national champions.
Brittney Griner led No. 3 Baylor (9-1) with 17 points. The All-American center played a leading role in a 17-point scoring run to start the Lady Bears' fifth consecutive victory in the series.
Griner's teammates essentially took over from there. Kimetria Hayden hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 points. Brooklyn Pope had 16 rebounds to go with 11 points. Jordan Madden scored 12.
"I thought we came out on fire," Griner said. "Any time we play Tennessee it's a high-intensity game."
No. 10 Tennessee (7-2) responded with a high-anxiety performance — at least for most of the first half. Meighan Simmons was the top scorer with 16 points but the junior guard needed 18 shots for her output. And there wasn't much help from the rest of UT's starters, who combined for 18 points.
Senior guard Kamiko Williams came off the bench to record her first career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. She also had six assists and no turnovers.
The Lady Vols ended up shooting a chilly 29 percent (22-for-75) from the floor and suffered a margin of defeat that tied for eighth largest in program history.
"We've been really shooting the ball well," UT coach Holly Warlick said. "I thought we had some open looks but it was always rushed. We were quick shooting the ball and our plan wasn't to quick shoot the ball."
Tennessee was hurting before the opening tip with center Isabelle Harrison sidelined with a sprained ankle suffered on Sunday against Texas. Her absence shrank UT's roster to eight players.
Once the game started, the situation grew worse. The fluid offense of the last seven games deteriorated into a series of jittery possessions. In the process, the Lady Vols topped the nine missed shots to start their only other game in Waco — a 65-54 loss on Dec. 14, 2010.
By the time Cierra Burdick rose up to knock down a jumper, nearly seven minutes had passed.
In that time, Griner already had scored nine of Baylor's 17 points. Tennessee's decision to deploy Bashaara Graves against her as a solo defender at the outset saddled the freshman forward with two quick fouls and a seat on the bench.
Burdick's basket actually started something of a scoring flurry. A Simmons tear-drop drive pulled UT within 23-11.
The surge was brief. The Lady Vols' field goal shooting percentage plunged as low as 16 percent (5 for 30) before halftime.
"I thought our defensive intensity was special at the beginning," Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said. "Everybody just fed off each other."
By the break, Baylor's lead was 41-16. The previous record for a Lady Vols' halftime deficit was 20 against Rutgers on Jan. 3, 2009. They rallied to win that game.
On this night, there was no chance of history repeating itself, despite UT managing 37 second-half points. Even with Griner playing just 11 minutes after the break, the Lady Vols never got closer than 19 points. A Nia Moore layup pulled them within 72-53 with 1:33 left.
"You're slowly chucking away at the score and then you look up at the score and you're still down by 25," Burdick said. "It kind of plays with your mind. It plays with your confidence."