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This Week in UT Sports History – Dec. 7th-13th

(Photo courtesy of Tennessee Athletics)

This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

The Lady Vols (2-1) faced their first road test this weekend against West Virginia (4-0) as part of the Big 12 Challenge. After the Mountaineers got on the board quickly with three points, Tennessee launched a back-and-forth battle that resulted in a 26-26 tie with four minutes remaining in the half. Tennessee’s Rennia Davis made it 28-26 just seconds later. Yet, West Virginia would lead 35-32 at halftime. The contest remained tight, forcing overtime after West Virginia knotted the score at 66 by the end of the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers went on to win, 79-73.

The game marked Tennessee’s first trip to Morgantown since the Lady Vols beat the Mountaineers on Jan. 4, 1986. Because of recent spikes of COVID-19, West Virginia officials prohibited fans from attending the matchup, making for a quiet matchup despite an electric battle.

Rick Barnes and the men’s basketball team have yet to commence the season following positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing ahead of the previously scheduled slate. They anticipate a return to the court tomorrow evening against Colorado in Knoxville.

As the basketball seasons ramp up and football winds down, Rocky Top Insider looks back at moments this week in UT sports history:

Dec. 7, 2006

Four Lady Vols scored in the double digits to put away a matchup against a ranked George Washington team this week in 2006. Tennessee entered the matchup ranked No. 6 in the nation and beat the No. 21 Colonials, 85-62.

Sidney Spencer broke away for 21 points as star scorer Candace Parker struggled early on. Parker executed a three-point play in the first six minutes of play. She would not get on the board again until a minute remained before the half. Working to find a rhythm on offense, Parker picked up 19 total points, Alexis Hornbuckle scored 14 and Nicky Anosike added a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Tennessee crashed the boards to find the advantage. The Lady Vols outrebounded the Colonials by double, 40-20.

The two teams had me the previous season in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Lady Vols won and advanced while the Colonials dropped to 0-7 against Tennessee all-time. The matchup in 2006 further dropped the stat to 0-8.

The 2006-2007 Lady Vols went on to win nine games following the matchup with GW in Knoxville. The streak snapped on Jan. 22, 2007 when they lost, 74-70, to No. 1 Duke at home, the only home loss that season. Tennessee went on to finish on top, however. Pat Summitt’s team finished the season 34-3 (.919) and claimed the national title. The Lady Vols beat No. 15 Rutgers, 59-46, in the first of back-to-back national championships.

The 2020 team faces Furman this Thursday in Knoxville at 7:00 p.m. The game will be available online via SECN+.

Dec. 8, 2008

Following the 2008 regular football season, the Associated Press named its All-SEC leaders. Vol sophomore Eric Berry captured national attention and earned the title of SEC Defensive Player of the Year on Dec. 8, 2008.

That year, Berry tied for first in the nation in interceptions with seven. His interception return yards broke Tennessee and conference records. He returned his seven interceptions for a combined 265 yards, an average of 37.9 yards per return.

Berry, a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award given to the top defensive back, finished the season 14 yards behind Florida State’s Terrell Buckley in the record book for career interception return yards. Buckley held the record at 501. Though the defensive back failed to win the Thorpe Award in the same week, he would claim it the following season. He also earned unanimous All-American selections in 2008 and 2009.

“I am extremely proud [of] Eric, and this honor is well deserved,” former coach Phillip Fulmer told utsports.com. “Eric is a great football player and outstanding student, but his greatest attribute is he is a great person and leader. He is an example for our university and for what is good about college football.”

Berry stood in prominent company among AP award winners that season. Eventual Heisman hoister Tim Tebow earned Offensive Player of the Year while multi-national championship coach Nick Saban earned Coach of the Year honors at Alabama. Crimson Tide receiver Julio Jones earned the award for Freshman of the Year.

By the time he left Tennessee, Berry had won the Vince Dooley Award for top defensive back in the Southeast (2009) and earned recognition on Sports Illustrated’s All-Decade Team in addition to the Thorpe Award and AP recognitions.

Deciding to forgo his senior season, Berry entered the 2010 NFL Draft. The Kansas City Chiefs selected him fifth overall in the first round. He selected 29 for his jersey number in honor of fellow former Tennessee defensive back Inky Johnson whose in-game injury in 2006 left his right arm permanently paralyzed.

In an interview for the university’s Torchbearer Magazine, Johnson recognized Berry’s homage.

“…I realized I could feel good by coaching and watching other guys play the game,” Johnson said. “And every time I turn on TV and watch Eric as 29, I get that same feeling—like I’m playing.”

Berry spent nine seasons in the Chiefs organization, battling an ACL injury, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Achilles injuries along the way. His cancer battle inspired awareness and fundraising campaigns in the NFL and beyond.

Dec. 9, 2018

Though very recent in Tennessee history, a parallel to the present makes one moment memorable – and perhaps a little painful given its tie. On Dec. 9, 2018, No. 7 Tennessee defeated No. 1 Gonzaga at the Jerry Colangelo Classic in Phoeniz, Arizona. The Vols, reigning SEC co-champions, upset the top team in the nation in a thrilling end, 76-73. The two teams were to have met again on Dec. 2 of this year with Gonzaga again ranked No. 1. COVID-19 forced cancellation of the rematch, saddening many fans not only in Tennessee but across the country.

After falling to No. 2 Kansas, 87-81, in a November overtime battle, Tennessee faced its second ranked opponent, one even higher than the last. The game proved a near stalemate for most of the contest. Tennessee held a 34-33 lead at the half. In second-half scoring, the Vols again claimed the advantage, 42-40, with a stellar performance from wing Admiral Schofield.

Schofield accounted for 30 of Tennessee’s 76 points, a career high. His miracle 3-pointers contributed to an 11-5 run in the final minutes of the game to take down the previously undefeated Zags. He received help during the game from Grant Williams (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Jordan Bowden (11 points).

“I was the one getting the shots tonight, but honestly, any guy could have been in that position,” Schofield said postgame. “We have a lot of talent.”

Offensive talent pointed to a Vol win in the first minutes of the game. The Vols led 17-8 before going 4-of-20 on shots to close out the half. Yet, a 7-0 run in the final minutes secured the halftime lead. Tennessee played a scrappy second half to hold on to win behind the double-digit scorers.

The two teams battled for eight lead changes and four tie scores. Tennessee scored 16 points off the bench, impressive against Gonzaga’s five. The all-around talent in orange and white continued to dominate. The game marked the third in what would be a 19-game win streak.

Tennessee earned a record of 31-6 with a perfect 18-0 at home. In one of the best seasons in Tennessee men’s basketball, the Vols finished the season in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

The Vols will host Colorado tomorrow night in Knoxville at 6:00 p.m. The game will be available on SEC Network+.

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