-- TEMPE, Ariz. -- A little less than a month after it looked as though Tennessee's season was going down in infamy -- with the possibility of the Lady Vols not making the NCAA tournament for the first time -- they are instead headed back to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.
Just two days earlier, the No. 7 seed Lady Vols had looked in danger of going out in the first round to Green Bay. But they came through in the clutch in that game, and then played one of the more aggressive and gutsy games of their season in beating Arizona State, which tied with Oregon State for the Pac-12 regular-season championship.
It was a far cry from the end of February, when the Lady Vols lost games on the road to LSU and Alabama, almost looking at the time as if they were giving up on their season.
But they regrouped with an 80-60 win over Georgia in their regular-season finale at home in Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee, then won two games at the SEC tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, to right the ship at least somewhat. Even though they lost to Mississippi State in the SEC semifinals, it finally appeared that Tennessee was getting closer to the team that the Lady Vols were expected to be -- and just in the nick of time.
Arizona State was trying to advance to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in program history, but ultimately the Sun Devils' defense just couldn't contain Tennessee as much as it needed to.
How the game was won: Tennessee was aggressive and got the ball inside early on, which set the tone that this game was not going to be like Friday's game against Green Bay. The Lady Vols finished with 42 points in the paint against Arizona State.
Player of the game: Diamond DeShields, like the entire Lady Vols team, has had some peaks and valleys this season. And that was true in Sunday's game, too. But when Tennessee really needed her to take over, she was definitely up to the task. DeShields finished with 24 points, 18 in the second half. She was 9-of-17 from the field and 6-of-7 from the line.
Turning point: With 1:58 left in the third quarter, DeShields deflected an Arizona State pass and got a steal, then led the fast break. She passed to Bashaara Graves, who found Nia Moore for an open basket, putting the Lady Vols up 50-42. Arizona State kept pecking away after that, and got a lift with Elisha Davis' buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the quarter, after which Tennessee led 54-47. But the edge that the Lady Vols had built gave them a cushion they were able to hold onto in the fourth quarter.
X factor: It's a tie. Tennessee center Mercedes Russell seemed particularly energized at the beginning of the game, which provided a big boost for Tennessee. She finished with 12 points and six rebounds. Graves, a senior forward, was key in the second half, finishing with eight points and 11 rebounds.
Stat of the game: After struggling to make shots against Green Bay, the Lady Vols were much more effective against Arizona State. Tennessee shot 51.8 percent from the field (29 of 56).
What's next: Tennessee moves to 21-13 and will face scoring wizard Kelsey Mitchell and No. 3 seed Ohio State in the Sioux Falls regional semifinals Friday in South Dakota. Arizona State's season ends at 26-7.