KNOXVILLE — Rennia Davis was forced into a position of leadership as a sophomore last season for the Tennessee women's basketball team.
At times she was good. At others it appeared as though the weight of the challenge as a young "leader" of a team devoid of them was too much for her to bear.
But there are times when she showcases a skill, an ability to take over games, that points to the reason the former coaching staff wanted to press her into that role. Against Arkansas two years ago she scored 33 points — the third-most ever by a Lady Volunteers freshman, behind Tamika Catchings' 35 and Candace Parker's 34 — and had 14 rebounds and four assists.
She had a 29-point performance against Mississippi State as a sophomore.
Davis showed out again Monday night with 33 points and 10 rebounds in Tennessee's 74-63 win over No. 15 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. She was the best player on the court from the outset. She had 12 points in the first quarter and 19 points and six rebounds by halftime.
Three of her career-high five 3-pointers came in the third quarter, helping the Lady Vols build an 18-point lead on their way to the program's first win over a ranked opponent since beating 12th-ranked Texas last season in Austin.
Her offense will get most of the publicity, but the Lady Vols' defense paved the way, holding Notre Dame to 31% shooting while blocking 12 shots. Tennessee actually had 28 turnovers in the game, but the defensive effort more than made up for it.
Davis told ESPN after the game that defense is the biggest difference between this season's team and last.
"I was hitting shots tonight, which was big, but we brought it on the defensive end from the start of the game," Davis said. "That was our plan, and I think we were able to execute on that end.
"We think we can be a great defensive team because we have so much length and we're so athletic. We take pride in our defense, and when we don't do it, we let ourselves down. There were times last year when we didn't take defense serious and we were inconsistent on that end. Coach Kellie (Harper) has emphasized that we have to play on that end to be able to compete this year."
Tennessee announced prior to tipoff Monday that sophomore guard Zaay Green tore her ACL and would be out for the 2019-20 season. NCAA rules dictate that to receive a medical hardship redshirt, a player can't have participated in two contests or dates of completion or 20% of her team's scheduled contests (whichever is greater), so Green will be able to receive a fifth year for college next season.
Green was a Southeastern Conference all-freshman-team selection last season, when she averaged 9.6 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. She was leading the Lady Vols at 13.0 points per game this season and chipping in 4.5 rebounds.
Harper said the injury occurred during Saturday's practice.
"It's obviously a big blow for our team," Harper told reporters after Monday's game. "Going into the game she's our leading scorer, a playmaker for us and one more guard to work with, but the team did a really nice job rallying around her."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.