Tennessee lost Diamond DeShields to a neck injury and then lost the game to Alabama, 65-57, in Tuscaloosa. DeShields was expected to be OK, but the primary offensive boost after she exited came from Schaquilla Nunn off the bench.
Tennessee (16-10, 7-6) fell to Alabama (16-10, 4-9) in a game reminiscent of last season – a loss that turned out to be the turning point for the Lady Vols season. If that script is to play out again, the Lady Vols will have to reengage at home against Arkansas this Sunday and Florida next week. Tennessee is not yet mathematically eliminated from a bye in the SEC tourney, but it will take considerable help and a three-game winning streak to get a coveted top four seed.
DeShields left the game for good at the 5:48 mark of the first quarter after she took a shot to the head and neck during a scramble for a loose ball. DeShields was down for 10-plus minutes so that a stretcher and board could be brought onto the court. DeShields was talking and moving all extremities while down – though she wasn’t moving her head – and was examined by doctors at Alabama.
Coach Holly Warlick said DeShields felt a pop and tingling in her neck. The decision was made to keep her off the court.
“I think Diamond is going to be OK,” said Warlick, who thanked the doctors at Alabama. “You don’t take a chance on a kid with a head or neck injury.”
Tennessee was listless to start the game, and it didn’t improve when DeShields left the game. The Lady Vols misfired inside and out and repeatedly gave up offensive boards to Alabama.
The Lady Vols trailed by four points, 15-11, amid a barrage of misfires and missed boxouts in the first quarter.
“We have to find bodies and box out,” said Nunn, who nearly singlehandedly kept the Lady Vols in the game in the first half.
Tennessee took a 24-23 lead in the second quarter but trailed 30-26 at halftime. Alabama attempted 30 shots to Tennessee’s 25 on the strength of 13 offensive rebounds for the Crimson Tide to two for the Lady Vols in the first 20 minutes. Had the Crimson Tide not shot 33.3 percent, Alabama would have built a double-digit lead.
Nunn answered the bell with 11 points in the first half, while Alexa Middleton and Mercedes Russell added five points each. But the 29-16 deficit on the glass against a much smaller Alabama team sunk the Lady Vols in the first half.
That margin ballooned to 53-38 on the glass by game’s end, with the Crimson Tide grabbing 22 offensive rebounds.
“That is unheard of for a Tennessee team,” Warlick said.
Nunn led the Lady Vols to a 43-42 lead with under a minute to play in the third quarter, but Alabama connected at the buzzer to retake the lead, 44-43. Tennessee trailed throughout the fourth quarter, and Alabama found enough offense – especially with its board work – to build and then maintain the lead.
Tennessee shot 36.7 percent (22-60) overall, 28.6 percent (4-14) from the arc and 64.3 percent (9-14) from the line. The Lady Vols had 11 assists and 10 turnovers.
Nunn led the Lady Vols with 15 points and 15 boards. Russell notched 17 points and nine boards, while Middleton added 14 points.
Alabama shot 35.2 percent (25-71) overall, 14.3 percent (3-21) from the arc and 66.7 percent (12-18) from the line. The Crimson Tide had 11 assists and 10 turnovers.
Coco Knight led Alabama with 18 points. Hannah Cook added 16 points and nine boards, with eight coming on the offensive end. Ashley Williams notched 11 boards.
The Lady Vols sputtered from opening tip to final buzzer and will return home hoping to bottle the magic they found a year ago. Tennessee also has to be relieved that DeShields is expected to be OK; seeing a teammate down on the court and not moving her head will rattle a team.
Nunn, a graduate transfer with just this season to play, was asked on the post-game radio show if this was not what she expected at Tennessee. She replied that it was frustrating, but she would not change her decision. Nunn also candidly replied when asked if someone on the team had to get vocal and angry when a game went south by noting that wasn’t this team’s personality. During a timeout, it was Nunn who was imploring her teammates.
“You have to see the good in the bad,” Nunn said. “This is not OK for us right now.”