KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) On the night that it honored Pat Summitt, Tennessee showed the kind of toughness that would have made the former Lady Volunteers coach proud.
Jaime Nared hit a tiebreaking jumper with 10.3 seconds left as Tennessee erased a 15-point, second-half deficit to beat No. 6 Notre Dame 71-69 on Monday night. The victory coincided with Tennessee’s ”We Back Pat” night to raise Alzheimer’s awareness and salute Summitt, who died June 28 at the age of 64.
”These kids played like losing was not an option,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ”That’s how Pat’s belief was throughout her career and throughout her life. We’re very thankful we got it done and glad we could represent her legacy the way we did.”
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Tennessee (11-6) outscored Notre Dame 19-7 in the fourth quarter to avoid its first three-game losing streak since February 1986.
The Lady Vols were coming off a loss at Mississippi that snapped the Lady Vols’ 28-game winning streak in that series. Tennessee held a 3 1/2-hour team meeting the day after the game and came out Monday eager to display the toughness that had been missing for much of the season.
”Tonight just showed that we’re mentally tough, despite our record,” Nared said. ”We needed to get this win, and we hunkered down and got stops when it counted. It wasn’t the most perfect game – I know you guys saw that – but when it counted, we got stops and we scored the ball. I think it’s just a testament to our team, and the people on our team, that we’re tough and we compete.”
After trailing by as many as 15 in the third quarter, Tennessee pulled ahead 69-67 on Meme Jackson’s baseline 3-pointer with 1:22 left. A driving basket from Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen tied it at 69-all with 1:03 remaining.
Tennessee went back in front on Nared’s jumper from about 15 feet away.
Because Tennessee had only committed one fourth-quarter foul up to that point, it could spend most of the final 10 seconds fouling the Irish three separate times without sending them to the line. Notre Dame’s final hope vanished when Allen’s 3-point attempt fell short of the front rim at the buzzer.
Tennessee outscored Notre Dame 19-7 during the fourth quarter in front of a raucous crowd that included WNBA star Candace Parker, who led the Lady Vols to national titles while playing for Summitt in 2007 and 2008.
”We were just outworked in the fourth quarter,” said Allen, who had nine points, 10 assists and six rebounds.
Diamond DeShields led Tennessee with 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. Mercedes Russell had 13 points. Nared and Jordan Reynolds added 12 points each.
Marina Mabrey scored 17 points and Arike Ogunbowale had 14 for Notre Dame (16-3). Brianna Turner and Jackie Young added 10 apiece.
Notre Dame: After shooting with uncanny accuracy through the first three quarters, the Irish went ice cold down the stretch. Notre Dame was just 3 of 14 in the fourth quarter after shooting 26 of 46 beforehand.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols made a little more use of their thin bench Monday, and that strategy enabled Tennessee to remain fresh as it dominated the fourth quarter. Schaquilla Nunn was particularly effective with eight points and four rebounds in 12 minutes.
In pregame check presentations, various companies and fundraises donated nearly $630,000 to the Pat Summitt Foundation, which is dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s. The foundation donated $600,000 to the Pat Summitt Clinic, which held its ribbon-cutting ceremony Sunday and is devoted to Alzheimer’s research and treatment.
SERIES OF SWINGS
Notre Dame had beaten Tennessee six consecutive times before losing Monday. Tennessee had won the first 20 games in this series. Since the Lady Vols won their first NCAA championship in 1987 no team has won seven in a row against them.
”I will never let go of this ball until I graduate,” Reynolds said as she carried a game ball into the postgame press conference.