STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Tennessee hasn’t had a particularly good regular season – especially by its lofty standards.
But at least for one afternoon, the Lady Volunteers looked very much like one of the nation’s elite teams in an 82-64 victory over No. 3 Mississippi State on Sunday. It was the program’s first road win over a top-three team since 2004.
Now Tennessee (19-10, 10-6 Southeastern Conference) has won three straight games heading into the conference tournament which begins on Wednesday in Greenville, South Carolina.
”It re-establishes who we are,” Tennessee guard Diamond DeShields said. ”It sends a message to everybody who doubted Tennessee, who had anything bad to say about Tennessee, who said we don’t play defense or whatever the case may be.”
Tennessee did just about everything well against Mississippi State on Sunday. Jaime Nared scored a career-high 30 points, DeShields added 20 and the Lady Volunteers made shots from all over the court, shooting 29 of 53 (54.7 percent) from the field.
”Our offense was very fluid,” Nared said. ”We were always moving and we played well with each other.”
Tennessee led nearly the entire game, jumping out to an 18-8 lead by the end of the first quarter. Mississippi State cut Tennessee’s lead to 10 points early in the fourth quarter, but was never really in the game despite having a sellout crowd of 10,500 fans behind it.
”If I could see all 10,500 that were in the arena today I would personally shake their hand and apologize,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said.
Mississippi State (27-3, 13-3) has lost two straight games to end the regular season. The Bulldogs were led by Victoria Vivians, who scored 18 points. Roshunda Johnson added 16.
It was emotional afternoon for Mississippi State, which honored four seniors – Chinwe Okorie, Dominique Dillingham, Breanna Richardson and Ketara Chapel – who all played huge roles in the Bulldogs’ push into the SEC’s elite.
But the Bulldogs struggled from the outset on Saturday, shooting just 8 of 34 (23.5 percent) in the first half to fall into a 36-20 hole by halftime.
Tennessee won the rebounding battle 39-26.
”We were out-toughed and out-hustled and it seemed like we lost all the energy plays,” Schaefer said. ”Those are things we pride ourselves on. I just didn’t have them ready.”
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick on the dominant win after such an up-and-down season: ”They were all dialed in. If I could bottle it, I would bottle it. Sometimes it’s like Forrest Gump, you don’t know what you’re going to get. But we got the good chocolate today.”
Tennessee: It’s a big win for the Lady Vols, who have had an uneven season but go into the SEC tournament on a roll. Nared was fantastic – shooting 8 of 14 from the field and 12 of 13 on free throws – and the whole team had a good shooting afternoon against an opponent that’s been one of the best in the country all season.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lost their chance at winning an SEC team title in a women’s sport for the first time in school history. But Mississippi State has more to worry about than that after losing two straight for the first time all season. The team’s post play was basically non-existent and Vivians disappeared for much of the second half when they need her most.
The Volunteers and Bulldogs both begin preparations for the Southeastern Conference tournament, which begins on Wednesday.
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