KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Redshirt junior Diamond DeShields made a huge return to the hardwood in Tennessee’s 72-65 win over No. 17/23 Kentucky on Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
After missing the last two games, DeShields dropped 21 points on 50 percent (8-of-16) shooting to go along with four rebounds, two assists and a block. Fellow redshirt junior Mercedes Russell compiled another strong outing, scoring 22 points, grabbing nine boards and dishing out three assists.
Tennessee (9-4, 1-0 SEC) is now 29-6 in SEC openers and improved to 2-2 on the season against ranked opponents.
Junior Jaime Nared scored double-digits for the 10th consecutive game, posting 18 points behind 5-of-10 shooting to go with five rebounds, two assists and a steal. She also was 5-of-6 from the charity stripe, making her last four within the final minutes of the game to ice Tennessee’s five straight win.
A trio of players led Kentucky (9-5, 0-1 SEC) in scoring. Taylor Murray finished with 23 points and six rebounds. Evelyn Akhator recorded the contest’s only double-double, posting 11 points on 100 percent (5-of-5) shooting and 10 rebounds. Maci Morris finished with 15 points on the day.
The Lady Vols started off hot on offense in the first quarter, hitting five of their first seven shots. DeShields got off to a quick start, dropping 10 points in the stanza as Tennessee took an early 20-14 lead over Kentucky.
The key storyline for the second period was Tennessee’s ability to hold preseason All-American Makayla Epps scoreless until 1:10 remaining in the first half, when she nailed a pair of free throws. She would finish the half with four points on 1-of-5 shooting. Russell fueled the Lady Vols, totaling 12 points and seven rebounds in the half. UT went to halftime leading, 36-29.
The two teams played even in the third period. UK used a 6-0 run in the final two minutes to pull back within four, but Russell’s dominance continued as she hit a layup with two seconds left in the quarter to give Tennessee a 52-46 lead at the end of three.
DeShields stepped up big in the final stanza, dropping nine of UT’s 20 points in the quarter to seal the game for the Lady Vols. Tennessee improved its series record against the Wildcats to 54-11 all time.