Shooting stars are a rare phenomenon.
They appear for a moment, even just a glimpse, only to fade into the night as quickly as they came.
That was the case for Tennessee on Wednesday night, as the Lady Vols fell to No. 1 Notre Dame 77-62.
The matchup gave Tennessee (12-7, 1-5) a chance to snap a five-game losing streak, and for a half, that feat looked possible.
In front of a raucous crowd of 9,154 at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Lady Vols stunned the Irish (19-1, 6-0) by jumping out to an 11-4 lead.
That lead ballooned to 26-18 before the half, and at the break, it seemed that Holly Warlick’s skidding team had the defending national champion on the ropes.
“It was a hard-fought game, and the first two quarters were great,” Warlick said. “But I did not want to go in at halftime.”
Warlick had good reason for wanting to stay on the court.
In the first half, Notre Dame star Arike Ogunbowale- whose game-winning shot delivered a national championship for the Irish last season- was held to just four points, as Tennessee’s defense suffocated the Irish.
In the second half, though, Ogunbowale flipped the switch to show why she was named the Most Outstanding Player for that 2018 run.
Throughout the half, the senior drove through the lane like a battering ram, scoring 16 of 24 second-half points in the third quarter alone.
“I thought in the third quarter she was attacking the basket more,” Warlick said. “She got out ahead and attacked the basket…She’s one of if not the best players in the country, and we held her in check until she figured out how to get points.”
Aside from Ogunbowale’s performance, Jackie Young also notched a quiet triple-double for the Irish, while Zaay Green led the Lady Vols with 19 points.
“Zaay did exactly what we expect her to do,” Warlick said. “She penetrated and is one of our best players that can penetrate the gap and take good shots. I thought she took good shots…I expect her to do that…now she showed that she can continue to do that.”
“I think what really flipped the switch is that it didn’t matter who it was or who we were trying to play, we just really wanted to win,” Green said. “The paint was kind of packed in, so we had to kick it out a lot, but our shots are going to end up falling in, and we’ll be alright.”
Despite the loss, Warlick applauded her team’s effort after competing head-to-head with the Irish for two quarters.
“They fought and they played hard. That is a great step for us and a good process for this team.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw also gave credit to Tennessee.
“I thought they were backed against the wall, playing as hard as they could against the No. 1 team,” McGraw said. “I do not want to play them again. I mean, they are a dangerous team…That was tough for them tonight, but they are growing and learning. They are not quitting, so there is a lot to build on there.”
Now, Warlick said, the trick is to figure out how to sustain Tennessee’s first-half energy for four quarters.
“I’ve just seen a different group and a different feel. They understand and they battled hard, we just didn’t get it done,” Warlick said. “They’re all going to have a chance to play, so we’re going to keep pushing them, staying on them, coaching them and putting them in a situation where we can win a basketball game.”
Tennessee will try to do just that on Sunday, as the Lady Vols take on LSU. Tip is slated for 1:00 p.m. at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Featured image courtesy of Jak
Edited by Kaitlin Flippo
Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!