The third-largest crowd to ever watch the Chattanooga Lady Mocs picked a great game to attend at McKenzie Arena.
In the season opener for both teams, the Lady Mocs took advantage of a golden opportunity as they pulled away from a 28-28 halftime tie to beat the 20th-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols, 80-71.
It was a monumental victory for the Lady Mocs, who defeated the Lady Vols for the first time since Jan. 26, 1973 when they prevailed 58-55 at Memorial Gym in Knoxville. Tennessee had won 19 straight since that time.
Taylor Hall, who kept Chattanooga in the game during the first half when she scored nine point, really came to life in the final 20 minutes as she added 15 more to finish with a game-high 24 points.
She was joined in double figures by three teammates, including junior Alex Black witih 14, senior Kayla Christopher with 11 and junior Ashlen Dewart with 10.
Meighan Simmons only scored two points in the first half, but she finished with a bang to lead Tennessee's offense with 23 points.
Freshman Bashaara Graves followed with 14 points while sophomore Isabelle Harrison added 13.
Chattanooga coach Wes Moore lost all nine of his games against Pat Summit-coached Tennessee teams, but he's now 1-0 in his only game against first-year leader Holly Warlick, who served as Summit's assistant for the past 27 years.
"First off, I'm really proud of my kids," Moore said in the press room afterward.
"The last two times we played them weren't much fun, but we really battled them tonight. This win ranks right up there with the win over Rutgers as those are two that we'll never forget.
We've gone to Knoxville the last three times and really got hammered, but I'm really happy for my seniors Kayla Christopher and Kylie Lambert. Tonight we were able to hold on.
"Normally we dig ourselves into a big hole early, but we didn't have to come back tonight. We may have caught them a little offguard, but they made the right choice when they picked Holly and Tennessee will be just fine," Moore added.
One of the biggest trademarks of Lady Vol teams in the past has been their commitment to defense. That wasn't the case on Friday as there was never a sense of urgency for Tennessee, even in the second half when Chattanooga's lead continued to grow.
Needless to say, coach Warlick wasn't smiling when she entered into the interview room.
"Our hat's off to UTC as they played a great game. We didn't do a very good job of containing the ball and our defense affected our offense. It's got to get better," she said point blank.
"Our defense tonight was non-existent. I know we're young, but we aren't going to compete with anyone with 26 turnovers. We have to take care of the basics and tonight, we didn't.
"I know these girls will hurt tonight, but it is what it is with five new players in our lineup. We'll just have to roll up our sleeves and get back to work. And until our defense becomes our top priority, we'll struggle," Warlick added.
It was a slow starting game as neither team played well early.
Lambert sank two free throws before Hall scored on a putback to give the Lady Mocs a 9-4 lead with 12:31 remaining in the opening half.
The Lady Vols responded with their best stretch of the game where they had a 12-0 run in the next three minutes.
Harrison scored on a nice inside move with 7:43 to play as Tennessee stretched that lead to 20-11 and it looked like the Lady Vols might be on the verge of taking charge.
Instead, Chattanooga went on a run of its own to score 13 straight points for a 24-20 lead following a free throw by Lambert with 1:52 left in the opening half.
Meghan Downs scored on a drive across the lane with three seconds left to give the Lady Mocs a 28-25 lead, but Ariel Massengale bagged a 3 at the buzzer to send the two teams into the dressing room tied at intermission.
Hall canned a long 3 from the baseline to start the second half and the Lady Mocs never trailed again.
Tennessee stayed within striking distance in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, but Faith Dupree nailed a jumper from the key with 6:25 to play, giving the Lady Mocs a double-digit lead at 59-49.
Simmons converted a couple of three-point plays in the waning moments to get the Lady Vols within seven each time, but every time it looked like Tennessee was making a move, Chattanooga answered.
Tennessee got six straight free throws from Harrison to get within 70-63 with 1:59 to play, but the Lady Mocs sank eight straight charity tosses in the final minute to keep a safe lead.
Hall sank two with 22.5 seconds to play as Chattanooga enjoyed its biggest lead at 80-67.
While both teams were virtually even in the first half, the second half saw Chattanooga sink 18 of 32 field goal attempts for 56.3 percent while Tennessee only managed 15 of 39 for 38.5 percent.
Tennessee won the rebound battle, 53-31, with Harrison grabbing a dozen.
Graves had eight before fouling out late while Cierra Burdick had seven, Taber Spani and Simmons six and Jasmine Jones five.
Hall had nine boards to lead Chattanooga while Lambert claimed six.
Tennesse had 26 turnovers while Chattanooga only had half as many.
TENNESSEE (71) -- Burdick 4, Spani 2, Harrison 13, Simmons 23, Carter 4, Jones 4, Williams, Massengale 7, Graves 14.
CHATTANOOGA (80) -- Hall 24, Dupree 6, Christopher 11, Black 14, Lambert 7, Payne, Towns 1, Downes 7, Jackson, Dewart 10.
3-POINT GOALS: Tennessee 3-16 (Simmons, Massengale 2); Chattanooga 7-19 (Hall 3, Black 2, Christopher, Downes).
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)