This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly column written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
Welcome to March 2020. Vol Baseball stands undefeated at 12-0 overall after a three-game series with George Washington University. Men’s basketball looks to keep momentum after a big win against conference rival Florida in Knoxville on Saturday. The next two match-ups will be tough tests for the Basketball Vols, playing at Kentucky Tuesday night before returning to Thompson-Boling Arena to face Auburn on Saturday.
Speaking of Auburn, the women’s basketball team took down Auburn on Sunday in a close one on the Plains, 56-55. Meanwhile, Lady Vol Softball struggled against East Tennessee State before a 9-3 win against Bowling Green on Sunday.
As these teams continue to play this month, they will etch their names into Tennessee record books already filled with memorable March moments. Take a look back at such moments in “This Week in UT Sports History.”
March 2-3, 1917
The 2020 men’s basketball team travels to Kentucky tomorrow night, but more than 100 years ago, the “Wild Cats” of Kentucky State (now UK) travelled to Knoxville for a two-game bout with the Vols. That Friday night, a hot contest scuffed up the court as a back and forth battle ensued between the border state teams before one team took the series on Saturday. Tennessee swept Kentucky in the 1917 season with five total wins.
The Knoxville Journal and Tribune described the visitors as “fast and rough,” anticipating a scuffle. Kentucky had three football players on the team including Doc Rodes, a “brilliant quarterback who gave the Orange and White gridiron warriors so much trouble” in a scoreless tie on Wait Field to close out the 1916 season. The Kentucky football team had hoped to defeat the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) Champion Tennessee, but no dice. At least Rodes would have his chance in basketball.
Rodes and company had their chance, but the Vols failed to yield on their home court at the Central Y.M.C.A. Tennessee edged past the visitors on March 2nd, winning 27-25. Poor weather encouraged fans to spend their day watching the “hill” boys, and raucous crowd support helped the Vols to victory.
“The game was a hotly contested struggle from start to finish,” The Journal and Tribune reported. “It was simply nip and tuck between the teams until the whistle blew at the close of the second half.”
The first half score stood at 12-10 in favor of Tennessee. As war raged in Europe, a different kind of battle played out as both teams fought back and forth until it just so happened the Vols came up on top by two points. The recap in the paper ran next to a column from master sporting wordsmith Grantland Rice who forebodingly noted “If there should be a call for an army, the bulk of all competitive sport would soon flutter to the discard, for the time at least,” but sport should not dissipate entirely. The U.S. entered World War I one month later.
The March 3rd contest between the teams proved much less than an even match. The headline read “Wild Cats Are Tamed” as Tennessee won 30-10.
“The visitors were not only tamed, but were forced to eat right out of the hands of the Vols, who chased them about over the floor and handled them one punch after another,” The Journal reported. “The individual and team work…of the Tennessee players would have bewildered any team.”
One can only hope the 2020 Vols develop such teamwork Tuesday night as they take on the ages-old foe.
March 5, 2005
Women’s basketball at Tennessee commenced at the beginning of the 20th century with recorded games against Maryville in March and April of 1903. The university dropped the sport in 1926, and women would not play again until the 1960s when Joan Cronan revived what is now one of the most dominant basketball dynasties in the country.
Part of that dynasty includes a 2005 Southeastern Conference Tournament title, one of several for UT. On March 5th, the No. 5 Lady Vols (26-4) also edged past their rival by two points to win a big game – the tournament championship against the No. 1 Lady Tigers of LSU (27-2). Tennessee earned its first tournament title since 2000 with the 67-65 win.
Shyra Ely burst onto the scene with 25 points for the Lady Vols. Her final lay-up with 32 seconds on the clock gave Tennessee the win after nine lead changes in the second half. LSU’s defense had held the Lady Vols to maintain the lead from the six minute mark until Ely’s miracle points. Ely earned the title of tournament MVP.
After 12 ties in the first half, LSU took a 12-2 run into the break, leaving the score at 37-31. However, Tennessee outrebounded the Lady Tigers in both halves to gain a slight edge on the court for shooting opportunities.
“It’s a loss, and we know we have another game coming up,” LSU head coach Pokey Chatman said. “We’ll break this game down and learn from the clips. I kind of like the fact we have a lot of time to clean some things up.”
The win gave Pat Summitt her 878th victory, within one game of North Carolina men’s coach Dean Smith’s career record. The win also marked Summitt’s 11th SEC tournament title.
“Nothing has broken the spirit of this team. I’ve worked them hard and they’ve bought into it. That’s more important to me right now than numbers,” Summitt said. “I’m glad to get up on the ladder and do something other than wash windows.
“I got to cut down the nets.”
Seventeen days later, a win against Purdue in the second round of the NCAA Tournament made Summitt the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history.
The 2020 SEC Tournament begins Wednesday in Greenville, South Carolina.
March 2, 2012
Often relegated to footnotes, Tennessee women’s golf sits in the shadow of other major spring sports. But this headline grabs attention: “Rohrback leads golf at Darius Rucker.” Darius Rucker, Hootie and the Blowfish front man and solo country artist, lends his name to a premier women’s golf event hosted by the University of South Carolina at the Long Cove Club in Hilton Head Island.
Teams stay in beach houses, eat five-star food, and enjoy a concert from Rucker, but make no mistake: the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate tournament is serious. First held in 2012, the tournament attracts top teams from across the country like UCLA, Georgia, Wake Forest, Duke, Auburn, Alabama, Furman, Tennessee, and of course, South Carolina.
At the first Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, the Lady Vols got off to a shaky start, shooting 21 over on opening day. Sophomore Kaitlyn Rohrback came out with a promising performance, shooting par on 13 holes and a birdie to tie for 16th on the day featuring 15 other teams with more than 60 individual competitors.
Tennessee failed to fair well on the fairway, teeing up an 11th place start in the 15-team field. Head coach Judi Pavon attributed the rough day to first-competition jitters.
“We were very shaky and nervous this morning,” Pavon said. “I am not surprised that we didn’t play great, but I am a little surprised that we played so poorly…I think we will improve each day as we get back into competition mode.”
With a tough field, the Lady Vols struggled to keep pace. But three years later, the Lady Vols finished fourth in the tournament on March 8, 2015, beating nine top-25 ranked teams.
Tennessee will not compete in that tournament this weekend.