Chattanooga stuns No. 20 Lady Vols 80-71
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's first game of the post-Pat Summitt era revealed in stunning fashion just how much has changed for one of the signature programs in women's college basketball.
Taylor Hall scored 24 points Friday as Chattanooga stunned No. 20 Tennessee 80-71 in the Lady Vols' first game under Holly Warlick, who spent the last 27 seasons as an assistant on Summitt's staff.
Warlick tried to chalk it up as a learning experience. In that case, it was the type of devastating lesson that nobody on the Lady Vols' roster ever expected.
"I think we were a little anxious, sure," Warlick said. "We're young. A new coach. We're playing in a hostile environment. But what it comes down to is you've got to take care of business. We didn't."
Chattanooga never trailed in the second half and beat Tennessee for the first time since Jan. 26, 1973. The Lady Mocs had lost the last 19 games in this series.
By the end of the game, a McKenzie Arena crowd of 8,468 that had seemed equally divided at the start of the night was gleefully chanting "UTC!" Several dozen students stormed the court afterward to celebrate with the Lady Mocs.
"My wife went home for her grandmother's 100th birthday, and the last thing she told me before she left was, 'Try not to embarrass the family,' " Chattanooga coach Wes Moore quipped after the game.
Summitt, who announced last year she had early-onset dementia, stepped down in April after collecting 1,098 wins, eight national titles and 18 Final Four appearances in 38 seasons. She was succeeded by Warlick, a former three-time All-America guard for Tennessee who was the first athlete at the school to have her number retired.
Summitt remains on staff as head coach emeritus and attends most of Tennessee's practices. She watched Friday's game from the fifth row in a narrow section behind and to the right of Tennessee's bench. The Hall of Famer was approached for dozens of photographs and autographs by fans of both teams before the opening tip.
Warlick stood in front of the bench throughout the night with her arms folded or her hands on her hips.
"As long as we learn from this, it's OK," Warlick said. "If we keep making the same mistakes, we're not going to get any better."
Meighan Simmons scored 21 of her 23 total points in the second half for Tennessee, which committed 26 turnovers and had only six assists.
"We have to play Tennessee basketball," Simmons said. "That's something we didn't do tonight."
The head coaching switch isn't the only change surrounding Tennessee this season. The Lady Vols don't return a single player who started an NCAA tournament game during their run to a regional final last season. Tennessee's roster includes four freshmen, four sophomores and only one junior and two seniors. Tennessee's No. 20 preseason ranking is its lowest position in the Top 25 since February 1985.
All those Tennessee underclassmen had plenty of nerves Friday.
Tennessee needed Ariel Massengale to sink a 25-footer at the buzzer just to force a 28-28 halftime tie with Chattanooga, a team that lost 90-47 to the Lady Vols last season. Chattanooga pulled ahead by making six of its first seven shots - including a trio of 3-pointers - in the second half. Chattanooga built on that lead by outhustling the Lady Vols.
In one sequence, Hall got a putback and drew a foul to give Chattanooga a 45-39 lead. Hall missed the ensuing free throw, but 5-foot-9 guard Kayla Christopher got the rebound and made a 3-pointer to extend the Lady Mocs' advantage to 48-39.
The Lady Vols turned the ball over five times in the first three minutes. They missed seven of their first eight shots. Tennessee settled down and went on a 16-2 run to take a nine-point lead late in the first half, but Chattanooga answered by reeling off 13 straight points to regain the lead.
"We were jittery at the beginning," Tennessee guard/forward Taber Spani said. "It took us a long, long time to settle down. It's not acceptable."
Hall was the best player on the floor all night long. At one point in the first half, Hall was 4-of-4 from the floor while her teammates were a combined 1-of-15. Once Hall started getting more help from her teammates, Chattanooga took the lead and never looked back.
After shooting 36.7 percent (11-of-30) in the first half, the Lady Mocs shot 56.3 percent (18-of-32) and scored 52 points in the second half. Chattanooga finished the game with 17 assists and only 13 turnovers.
"Until defense becomes a priority for us, we're going to struggle," Warlick said. "Right now, our defense is not a priority. I hope this is a great lesson for them."
This wasn't the first time the Lady Vols struggled to leave Chattanooga with a victory. When the Lady Vols last played Chattanooga at McKenzie Arena four years ago, they also had a freshman-laden team and trailed late in the second half before squeaking out a 66-63 victory.
This time, Chattanooga closed the deal.
"This is special," said Moore, a 1986 Tennessee graduate. "It will be something we never forget. That's what I told them in the locker room. You've done something you'll never forget."