The Tar Heels, meanwhile, had three turnovers in less than three minutes – and 30 for the game – while Tennessee, led by Meighan Simmons, was filling up the basket.
"We didn't start well," UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "I think four of our first five possessions we had turnovers, and we didn't start out good."
After Harrison scored on a stick-back for a 10-2 lead at the 16:44 mark, Hatchell wanted timeout.
Tennessee, and Simmons, however, weren't deterred. Bashaara Graves powered the ball between two Heels for a basket and Simmons drove and hit a bank shot and then answered that with a three ball for a 17-7 lead at the 13:57 mark of the first half.
Simmons got her 1,000th career point at the free throw line after getting trapped, spinning out of it and getting fouled on a baseline attempt at the 11:32 mark of the first half. She drained the first free throw for the milestone and then reached 1,001 points with the second toss from the stripe.
By the end of the game, she had 1,023 for her career and left the game to a standing ovation from the crowd. It was the first 30-point threshold game of Simmons' career and the first time a Lady Vol had reached the number since Candace Parker poured in 34 against Notre Dame in the NCAA tourney in 2008.
"When she shoots the three ball the way she does and when you're a penetrator who's quick to the basket, it's difficult to defend," Coach Holly Warlick said.
"When she gets down the floor and puts herself in a position like she did, she puts up points. She's a scorer. When she gets on a roll, she's a little streaky, so you hope she hits her first couple of baskets."
Simmons did and then some. She was 9-11 (81.8 percent) in the first half with a total of two minutes of rest. Her 22 first-half points exceeded her per game average and after the total output, she now leads the Lady Vols at 17.9 points per game.
"I just let the game come to me, and when I do that, a lot of things come to me in a manner that I'm not expecting," Simmons said. "I need to continue to play that way and continue to play under control.
"I have to stay focused and stay within the system of University of Tennessee basketball."
It is a system that has worked this season so far – minus a significant stumble in the opener at Chattanooga – and Warlick was curious to see if her team could run with North Carolina.
She had especially reminded her team to get on the boards, because the Tar Heels entered the game with gaudy glass stats. The Lady Vols held a 26-15 advantage at halftime.
"It was definitely something that Holly stressed at the beginning of halftime," Taber Spani said. "We were keeping them off the board. When we were scouting them, we understood that they were averaging around 17.3 offensive rebounds per game. We knew that they went hard.
"We knew it was going to be a huge challenge for us, and we won by plus 14, so that's huge for us. Pat and Holly's philosophy always has been and always will be defensive boards. I think that showed with holding them to 54 points and winning the rebounding war."
Tennessee finished with a 54-40 advantage on the glass with Isabelle Harrison snaring 11 rebounds and Cierra Burdick grabbing 10. Bashaara Graves tallied eight.
Burdick and Graves combined for 13 defensive boards to help limit North Carolina to one-and-done on the offensive end. The Tar Heels got just eight second-chance points, while the Lady Vols notched 24.
By halftime the Lady Vols led 49-28, and Warlick had played all 10 available players.
"It was a great team effort," Warlick said. "We talked about playing as a team before the game, and you can look at the stats and understand it was a team effort."
It was also a physical game. Harrison had an ice pack under her right eye at the post-game press conference after absorbing an errant elbow.
"(I got it) just playing defense against a big girl, and I caught an elbow in the eye," Harrison said. "But if that's what it takes, I'll take it."
Andraya Carter reinjured her right shoulder in the first half and played just five minutes. She didn't return to the game and was officially listed as day to day and under evaluation.
North Carolina's Tierra Ruffin-Pratt got fouled on the way to the basket in the first half and hit the back of her head when she landed. She didn't return in the second half.
"She didn't show symptoms until halftime," Hatchell said. "That's why we wouldn't let her go back in."
Tennessee started the second half a tad slow and then erupted again, and the game was essentially out of reach for North Carolina after the first five minutes. The Lady Vols led by 20 points, 58-38, at the 15:16 mark, by 30 points, 80-50, at the 7:37 mark, and by 40 points, 93-53, at the 3:33 mark. The final margin was 45 points.
The 102 points against North Carolina was the most for Tennessee against the Tar Heels since 108 points scored in 1982.
"I'm disappointed we didn't make a better showing tonight, but it's early," Hatchell said. "I saw some good things. This young lady's going to be quite a player as you can tell, a lot like her dad. She's only a freshman."
Hatchell was referring to Xylina McDaniel, the daughter of NBA standout Xavier McDaniel. Tennessee recruited Xylina McDaniel, who is from South Carolina and opted to stay in the Carolinas.
McDaniel led the Tar Heels with 19 points, 13 rebounds and six steals.
"So far we haven't played a team that plays like us, that likes to play fast," McDaniel said. "It just opened our eyes. We need to work on it a little more."
Waltiea Rolle also reached double figures with 13 points and four rebounds. Krista Gross added eight boards for the Heels.
North Carolina shot 34.4 percent (21-61) overall, 9.1 percent (1-11) from long range and 45.2 percent (14-31) from the line. The Tar Heels had 11 assists, 30 turnovers, 17 steals and seven blocks.
Tennessee had five players reach double digits led by 33 points from Simmons. Harrison also reached a career high with 18 points and added 11boards. Burdick tallied 15 points, Graves added 11, and Spani chipped in with 10. Nia Moore had six off the bench, including a perfect 4-4 from the line.
Tennessee shot 48.1 percent (37-77) overall, 42.9 percent (6-14) from the arc and 81.5 percent (22-27).
The Lady Vols had 21 assists, 20 turnovers, 13 steals and four blocks.
"We had several people score in double figures," Warlick said. "We had 21 assists. So when you have 21 assists, you're sharing the basketball.
"I'm proud of the team. I thought their defensive effort was outstanding, holding North Carolina to 57 points. Overall, I'm extremely pleased."
The Lady Vols will get the day off Monday and then undergo some shorter practice sessions this week with final exams getting underway.
"We want to make sure we don't lose our conditioning," Warlick said. "We're going to fine-tune our defense a little bit. We have some things to correct as far as defending concepts and tweaking our offense a little, but just making sure they stay fresh and sharp and they enjoy coming into practice."
MY TAKE FOR INSIDE TENNESSEE
The Lady Vols beat the Tar Heels at their own game, affirming the style Holly Warlick wants to play this season.
Assistant coach Jolette Law, who prepared the scout for the matchup against North Carolina said the team that prevailed on the boards and had the fewest turnovers would win the game. She was correct
Tennessee dominated North Carolina on the scoreboard, 102-57. The Lady Vols also won the glass battle, 54-40, and had fewer turnovers, 20 to 30 for the Tar Heels. North Carolina converted the Lady Vol miscues into 16 points. Tennessee more than doubled that output with 36 points off Tar Heel turnovers.
The Lady Vols also got career offensive efforts from two players – Meighan Simmons notched 33 points and Isabelle Harrison tallied 18.
Simmons was smoking from the start of the game and shot 9-11 in the first half for 22 points before the break.
Whatever she ate, drank, did last night, she's got to do that again every game," Coach Holly Warlick said. "I'm going to make sure of it."
Simmons credited a higher power in the post-game press conference and said she prayed Sunday morning for guidance.
"To be honest, I give the credit to God," Simmons said. "I woke up this morning and was in a different mindset. I wanted to go out and play my hardest, because I knew what was coming at me. I got up this morning and prayed."
It was a game that Simmons had highly anticipated because the Tar Heels were the first team that would run with Tennessee. Both teams wanted a track meet, and the 11,342 fans in attendance at Thompson-Boling Arena were delighted from tip to final buzzer.
"It was awesome," Warlick said. "It was a great team effort. We talked about playing as a team before the game, and you can look on the stats and understand it was a team effort.
"We had several people score in double figures. We had 21 assists. So when you have 21 assists, you're sharing the basketball."
Ariel Massengale delivered seven of those helpers – what should be known as a "Mass Pass" – and managed the game on both ends. She got the ball to the scorers and got back on defense.
The sophomore was 0-4 from the field but 3-4 from the line and surrendered the ball just twice in 30 minutes on the floor. Massengale also had a steal and grabbed three rebounds.
She also is Warlick's eyes and ears on the court.
"We just have a good connection," Warlick said. "We talk about what we should run. I want her to give me suggestions, because she's on the floor.
"That's what Pat used to allow me to do, give suggestions. Whether the head coach takes them or not is another thing."
Warlick got a huge hug from Pat Summitt after the game, as it was a huge win for Tennessee.
The Tar Heels were ranked and had been playing stingy defense. It also was Tennessee's first nationally televised game of the season so for many folks it was the first chance to get a look at Warlick in her new role as head coach.
Warlick made good use of her bench as she went eight deep in double-digit minutes and got lengthy contributions from two starters – 35 from Simmons and 30 from Massengale.
The two guards were hard to take out – Simmons was offensively energized and Massengale was managing the game so well.
The two also had to make up for the loss of freshman guard Andraya Carter, who reinjured her right shoulder right before halftime and spent the second half on the bench with an ice bag attached to the shoulder. Carter was officially listed as day to day, but the reoccurrence of the injury raises a red flag about the stability of the shoulder.
When Tennessee started slow in the second half, Warlick got a quick timeout at the 16:42 mark – North Carolina had trimmed the halftime lead of 50-28 to 52-36 – and the Lady Vols responded by getting the ball inside to Harrison. Within five minutes the lead was 20 points and mushrooming to the final 45-point margin.
"I'm disappointed we didn't make a better showing, but it's early," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. " … We didn't start well. I think four of our first five possessions we had turnovers. It's early; we're not going to slow down. We're just going to get better. …
"Tennessee played a great game. They couldn't have shot probably much better than they did."
The Lady Vols shot 48.1 percent for the game with Simmons shooting 54.5 percent. Better yet, Warlick liked every one of the shots that Simmons took. That wasn't always the case in her first two years on campus but the junior is playing within the team concepts and is better on both sides of the ball.
"Obviously, Meighan is an amazing player and an amazing scorer, so when she is taking great shots and was on fire is great for her, but it helps everybody," senior Taber Spani said.
"It helps our posts; it helps our guards. When they have to start to key so much on her, it opens it up for everyone else. In the second half, you could see that. For her to go off like she did, we're so proud of her, and she works so hard in practice. It's huge."
Spani was on the court 90 minutes before tipoff and was draining shots from the arc.
She hit her first two three balls Sunday and finished with 10 points, four boards, two assists, two steals and no turnovers in 14 minutes of play.
"She needed to get in a rhythm," Warlick said. "She hit big shots, and I don't think she took a bad shot."
The outcome was surprising – not the win so much as the final score – because of how the Lady Vols had struggled Thursday with Middle Tennessee. Perhaps Tennessee had looked past the Blue Raiders for a lighter hue of blue.
Clearly, they were ready for Sunday's game.
"I think our intensity was a lot better," Spani said. "In the future, we want to get to a point where we stay consistent for every game. Middle Tennessee was a mini wake-up call, and I think our intensity and energy wasn't as consistent as we wanted it to be.
"Right from the get-go, everyone who started came in with intensity and energy. I think that's the difference between us playing a game like this and playing Middle Tennessee or Chattanooga."
It was the best possible outcome for the Lady Vols as they now will focus on final exams and practice time with the coaches, who are bound to be in a good mood with the win rather than two weeks to stew on a loss.
"It's always good to end on a win, especially because it puts our coaches in a good mood going to practice," Harrison said.
"We're just going to take it as it is and keep practicing. There are more opponents that we have to face and there's some good competition, so we just need to keep moving forward."
For now, the Lady Vols will get back to practice with the knowledge that they can play the style they want – up-tempo against an athletic team.
The Tar Heels have four high school All-Americans in the starting lineup and while North Carolina missed the NCAA tourney last season, that was due to an inordinate number of injuries. What the Tar Heels lacked Sunday was a consistent outside shooter – 34 of their 57 points came in the paint and the Heels shot 9.1 percent (1-11) from long range – but they ratcheted up the pace and gambled with a pressure defense, and Tennessee made them pay in transition.
"We're a North Carolina type of team; they've always been push-push-push, and we're trying to be that," Spani said. "We've established that these first seven games.
"It was huge; it was a great confidence builder. It told us we can go up against a team that is like ourselves, very athletic and up-tempo-and do what we did against them.
"They're a very good team and very talented; it says a lot for our performance."
It did indeed.
GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTSTV
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO
Meighan Simmons, Taber Spani, Izzy Harrison
Coach Sylvia Hatchell, Xylina McDaniel