The game unfolded like so many others in the storied history of Tennessee women's basketball. Then South Carolina suddenly and dramatically altered the course of the game and its basketball history Thursday night.
Until the last five minutes, UT's two-time defending SEC champions seemingly had summoned enough resolve to weather another underdog's charge, just as they have so many times at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The eighth-ranked Lady Vols had overcome a career game from South Carolina guard Markeshia Grant and taken a seven-point lead with just under five minutes to play against a team they had beaten 40 consecutive times.
That's when the Gamecocks gave the Lady Vols and history a resounding comeback kick. They rallied down the stretch, making the kind of clutch plays championship teams usually make and pulled off a 64-60 victory that coach Dawn Staley called the "biggest of my career."
"We didn't have an answer for them the last four minutes of the game," UT associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "We didn't have an answer for their runs."
Many Tennessee fans didn't bother sticking around for the clinching points. Maybe they had a premonition based on how confidently and determinedly South Carolina played down the stretch.
Those early departing fans apparently knew what they were doing.
They didn't have to watch South Carolina's La'Keisha Sutton hit two free throws after a timeout to give her team a four-point lead with 12 seconds to play. They also missed a rare, unseemly sight: opposing SEC players celebrating on UT's home floor.
Afterward, South Carolina players joined their 50-or-so fans sitting behind the goal closest to their bench. The crowd included South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, who has a history of leaving Knoxville with a victory in tow.
The pregame was altogether different. It was another tribute to UT coach Pat Summitt, who is battling early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.
South Carolina presented a check for $20,000 to Summitt's son, Tyler. The check will go to the national Alzheimer's association.
The feel-good start was followed by a hard, abrupt twist.
South Carolina immediately demonstrated a couple of traits that were prominent in Kentucky's last-second victory over UT three weeks ago.
Like Kentucky, it made the Lady Vols uncomfortable with an aggravating defense. And like Kentucky, it had one very hot shooter. Grant played the role of Kentucky A'dia Mathies, hitting seven of 12 3s, including one with 3:57 to play when Tennessee lost her in transition.
Losing good shooters: That has become an unflattering, repetitive theme for this UT team. So have crucial turnovers, which contributed significantly to a limited Gamecocks offense.
"South Carolina is a pressure team, so you can't turn the ball over," Warlick said. "The turnovers for us resulted in layups for them."
The Lady Vols know what their problems are. They just can't fix them.
They have little tolerance for adversity. They miss too many easy baskets. They have gone dreadfully cold from 3-point range (1-for-8 against South Carolina). And aside from Glory Johnson, individual play vacillates wildly from one game to the next.
Even Johnson had her awkward moments against South Carolina. She fouled out with 12 seconds to play. Her foul trouble wasn't happenstance.
"We needed Glory not to play as many minutes," Staley said. "We wanted to go at her and get fouls."
This was as much about game execution as pregame preparation. And the resulting defeat was the most glaring of UT's six losses — because it didn't come against a top-10 team on the road and because of its impact on the SEC standings.
The Lady Vols now have two more conference losses than first-place Kentucky. Even a UT home victory over the Wildcats wouldn't boost them back atop the SEC. So they're playing catch-up.
At least, South Carolina showed them how it's done.