This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little
It’s finally here. The Lady Vols basketball program announced its schedule for the 2020-21 season last week. Under second-year head coach and former three-time national champion Kellie Harper, the Lady Vols will kick off the season on Friday, Nov. 27, in Knoxville against Florida A&M. Tennessee has played Florida A&M one other time in program history, the anniversary falling this week in UT sports history. Tennessee put up 34 points in the first quarter alone as the Lady Vols cruised to a 96-31 win on Nov. 18, 2018. Defense held the Rattlers to only five points in the fourth quarter to pick up the early season win in Holly Warlick’s last season at the helm.
Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at Lady Vol basketball feats and more this week in UT sports history:
Nov. 19-20, 1996
One year to the day after defeating Virginia to open what would be a national championship season, the Lady Vols traveled to Ruston, Louisiana for the Preseason Women’s National Invitational Tournament. They would face two other powerhouse programs in Notre Dame and Louisiana Tech, the latter of which stands as one of the only programs to reach at least 1,000 wins (along with Connecticut, Texas and Tennessee). The Lady Vols had defeated the Lady Techsters for the national title 10 seasons prior in 1987. But Notre Dame would pressure the Lady Vols’ offense that Tuesday, leading to fatigue in a two-point loss for Tennessee on Wednesday.
Tennessee and Notre Dame met on the court on Nov. 19. The Fighting Irish were no match for the defending national champions at the end of the day, losing 72-59. However, head coach Muffet McGraw and company proved they were a force fighting their way to the No. 6 seed in the NCAA Women’s Tournament. Their season would end at the hands of Pat Summitt and the No. 3-seed Lady Vols in the Final Four, 80-66.
The No. 2 Lady Vols held No. 14 Notre Dame to 59 points, the running average for the season to that point. They had held Austin Peay to 59 and Kansas to 60 to start the season. Notre Dame sought its second consecutive upset against a top-10 foe and showed tenacity with 11:50 remaining. The Irish outscored Tennessee 16-3 to pull within six points with a little more than seven minutes to go, 55-49. The stretch marked the second significant momentum shift after Tennessee erupted at the commencement of the second half, outscoring Notre Dame 18-6.
Though the team had set the tempo early on, Notre Dame could not hang on.
“We were hurt towards the end of the first half by our turnovers,” McGraw said. “We were controlling the tempo and had them playing our type of game, but we got careless with the ball. Defensively, we also had a couple of lapses in the last five minutes of the first half and I think this is where the game was decided.”
The Irish only scored four points in the first six minutes after halftime. However, a second wind put pressure on Tennessee’s offense. Chamique Holdsclaw led the team with a double-double, putting up 22 points and 12 rebounds. Already fatigued after playing just two days prior, the Lady Vols would hold on to win, but with little left to give. With depleted reserves, they faced their old foes from Louisiana Tech the next day, losing by just two points, 66-64.
The Lady Techsters would enter the NCAA Women’s Tournament that season as a No. 2 seed and Sun Belt Conference champions. They exited the tournament in the Sweet Sixteen, finishing with a record of 31-4, better than Tennessee’s 29-10. Yet, the national champions that year stood clad in Big Orange and Lady Vol blue.
The 2020-21 Lady Vols commence play next week after Thanksgiving.
Nov. 16, 1996
The historic 2020 season took a turn for the Vols when positive tests for COVID-19 within the Texas A&M football program forced the rescheduling of the game originally slated for Nov. 14. Tennessee will now face the Aggies on Dec. 12. The Vols hold a record of 2-4 in the conference-only season, with home and road records both at 1-2. Tennessee led Arkansas by 13 points heading into halftime in the last matchup on Nov. 7. Then, the Vol defense allowed 24 points in the third quarter alone to hand Arkansas a 24-13 win.
However, the Arkansas-Tennessee story ended in reverse in 1996, with the Vols flipping the narrative in the second half. While the Lady Vols prepared to take on Kansas after their first win, Tennessee football looked to bounce back after a 21-17 upset against Memphis. The loss marked the Vols’ second on the season, the other coming against Florida that September. With prowess to prove, the No. 12 Vols welcomed Arkansas for a 55-14 thrashing at Neyland Stadium.
Junior quarterback Peyton Manning threw into the 12:30 p.m. sun as it seemed a stalemate might ensue. The two teams entered halftime tied at 14, each scoring seven points in the first and second quarters, respectively. Then, offensive and defensive attacks delighted the 103,158 fans in attendance. The Vol defense held Arkansas scoreless through the latter quarters. Tennessee put 14 points on the board in the third before breaking loose for 27 points in the fourth.
Through the third quarter, Manning had completed an impressive 23/24 for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Though Arkansas had only 33 pass yards, they nearly doubled Tennessee’s total rushing (140 to 74 on the ground). Manning’s commanding performance set up the Vols with 301 total yards to Arkansas’ 173 heading into the final quarter.
Dwayne Goodrich’s 45-yard pick six in the fourth quarter sealed the deal for the Vols. Goodrich, the defensive MVP of the 1998 championship game against Florida State, would later be drafted by the Dallas Cowboys who waved him in 2003. That year, Goodrich faced arrest on charges of vehicular manslaughter after a hit and run accident that killed two people. He served eight years in prison resulting from conviction of two counts of criminally negligent homicide.
The 1996 team finished the season 10-2 with a win against Northwester in the Florida Citrus Bowl, 48-28.
Tennessee travels to Auburn this Saturday for a matchup at 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.