Holly Warlick on the Lady Vols' loss to Notre Dame
Hard to miss Skylar Diggins Monday night, but Tennessee somehow lost her anyway.
The All-American cut down the lane unimpeded early in the second half, as if she was jogging through a park. She received a pass and scored a layup.
The two points were part of a career-high 33 scored by the senior point guard. The play reflected a methodical offensive display that featured 53.6 percent shooting (15 for 28) from the floor after halftime. The player and the performance meshed perfectly for a 77-67 women's basketball victory over the Lady Vols.
"They were just running their offense," UT senior Taber Spani said. "We watched it all week on film. We knew what they were going to do. I think they are one of the best teams in the country at executing."
Diggins was the consummate conductor. She wowed a crowd of 13,556 at Thompson-Boling Arena by scoring 22 of her points in the second half. Six of them — along with three assists, a block and a steal — ignited an 11-point scoring run. The Diggins-led charge expanded a four-point to 54-37 with 14:13 left.
Raising of Pat Summitt's Banner
"She played fantastic and hit key shots for them," Spani said. "She was their leader emotionally. She willed her team to victory."
Other than Diggins, Jewell Loyd was Notre Dame's only other double-figure scorer with 10 points. The nation's top free throw shooting team was a shaky 12 for 21 from the foul line. The No. 2 Irish (19-1), who also are among the nation's top rebounders, were outrebounded by UT, 47-45.
No. 9 Tennessee (16-4) saw an opportunity through these cracks in Notre Dame's performance and mounted a comeback. Led by a team-high 19 points from Bashaara Graves, the Lady Vols whittled a 19-point deficit to five after a Spani free throw with 3:54 left.
Video highlights of Notre Dame vs Tennessee, Jan. 28, 2013
"We were on the verge of getting blown out," UT coach Holly Warlick said. "We could've laid down and died. We fought back."
But then Diggins responded by zipping a pass to teammate Madison Cable for a layup and nailing her third and final 3-pointer. End of rally.
"When you go to college, you dream of playing in games like this," Diggins said. "I thought we did a good job of handling it. We took our punches and kept it rolling."
Emotions were running high before the game when head coach emeritus Pat Summitt was honored on the court with a banner-raising ceremony that paid tribute to her 1,098 victories and eight national championships as UT's coach.
Despite three baskets inside the first two minutes, The Lady Vols' shooting percentage plunged to 28.6 percent (10 for 35) at halftime, undermining some of the best defense they played all night.
The Lady Vols also lost starting center Isabelle Harrison, who was helped to the locker room after suffering an injury to her left knee 5:07 before halftime.
Harrison took the court with left knee problems. UT announced in a release beforehand that the 6-foot-3 sophomore had been diagnosed with a lateral meniscus injury but was cleared to play. Warlick had no update afterward on Harrison's condition.
"I was more worried about Izzy at first," said Graves, who grabbed 13 rebounds. "Then I started playing for her."
Spani scored 12 points. Meighan Simmons overcame early foul trouble to score 11. But the Lady Vols couldn't overcome 33.3 percent shooting (22 for 66).
And they didn't have an answer for Diggins.