SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It didn’t feel like the dead of winter outside, not with rain falling throughout the day.
The biggest chill was left for inside Notre Dame’s Purcell Pavilion on Monday night, whenever Tennessee was shooting.
The Lady Vols aimed and misfired over and over against the Irish and paid a steep price, losing 72-44 before a noisy sellout crowd of 9,149.
The point total was the lowest in Tennessee women’s basketball history. The margin of defeat was the second worst of all time, trailing only a 31-point loss to Texas in 1984.
Led by Skylar Diggins’ 27 points, No. 2 Notre Dame (20-1) surged after a sluggish first half, shooting 67.9 percent from the floor after halftime (19 for 28) primarily by piling up 48 paint points.
The Lady Vols’ frustration was evident during the game and their embarrassment was apparent afterward. UT associate head coach Holly Warlick’s began her postgame remarks by apologizing for Tennessee’s play, saying the team didn’t compete.
“I think we gave up early in the game and we should’ve never given up,’’ said guard Meighan Simmons, who scored a team-high 13 points. “That’s not what Tennessee does. Tennessee plays until the last buzzer and we didn’t do that today.”
No. 7 Tennessee (14-5) shot 20 percent from the floor (7 for 35) for the first half and never elevated its accuracy above 30 percent. The final tally was a chilly, season-low 27.9 percent (17 for 61).
Senior forwards Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen shot a combined 5 for 22. Even Simmons needed 15 shots for her points.
No Lady Vol managed to reach 50 percent accuracy. Reserve forward Vicki Baugh came the closest, scoring eight points on 4 for 9 shooting.
On top of all that, UT was 7 for 16 from the free-throw line.
“It took our energy,’’ Johnson said of Tennessee’s shooting woes. “There was no positive energy on the floor. Eventually, everyone just started yelling at each other and that’s not how our team is. You can’t do anything with negative energy.”
UT went deep into its roster early, searching for any sort of shooting spark. Junior guard Taber Spani, who returned to practice Sunday for the first time since Christmas break, made her first game appearance since Dec. 20 at Stanford. But the junior guard missed her only two attempts.
“If I felt if I could’ve scored, I might’ve gone in the game,’’ Warlick said. “But my eligibility is up.”
About the only person to have anything conciliatory to say on Tennessee’s behalf was Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw, who referenced UT’s recent injuries.
“They were banged up a bit coming in,” she said.
They were really banged up leaving, but not until the second half
The Irish weren’t exactly on target, either, at the outset, hitting at a 35.5 percent clip (11 for 31) for the first 20 minutes. They also committed 10 of their 19 turnovers. Their lead didn’t reach double figures until two Diggins free throws sent them to the locker room with a 28-18 advantage.
“We made some mistakes on transitions where we usually make better decisions as a team,” Diggins said. “Coach told us to not get discouraged and to keep attacking. We just had to stay in attack mode.”
When the Irish’s attack was finished, the humbled Lady Vols were left in shambles, stumped for a better mode of play.
“They forced us into a lot of hurried plays and I don’t have an answer for that today,’’ Warlick said. “We just didn’t compete and we didn’t play and Notre Dame had a whole lot to do with it.”
Dan Fleser may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser