Ever been to Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville?
It's a cathedral of sorts. For one thing, it's orange inside just about everywhere your eyes take you. Blinding orange. It's overwhelming to walk in the octagonal building that sits northwest of the Tennessee River as a fan let alone play on a floor named The Summitt. You hear Rocky Top a few dozen times, and Junior Smoky, the floppy-eared Lady Vols mascot who won Dog of the Year over other pooches from Georgia and UConn in a recent contest, glides around on skates.
It's easy for Tennessee opponents to get swallowed up in electric digs like those, especially with more than 9,000 in tow, but Virginia Tech made it look easy romping over the No. 8 Lady Vols 57-43 on Sunday.
"It's probably my favorite arena I've ever been to," said Hokies junior guard Vanessa Panousis and we understand why. The Aussie amassed 21 points (more than Tennessee in the second half), including a dagger-delivering 5-of-8 from 3. Free throws weren't an issue, either, as she drained all six of her attempts. The loss ended the Lady Vols' 44-game home win streak over unranked teams. "
"As soon as I walked in, I thought it was amazing," said Panousis, and she was talking about practice the day before. " The amount of seats in that arena and the floor were great. On game day, to feel the atmosphere -- great."
As for that color . . . "I thought we had a lot of orange," she said. "It was incredible."
Panousis said she thought the Hokies, now a gaudy 7-1, started somewhat slowly offensively, but credited her team's patience in pulling off Tech's first victory over a ranked team since 2012. Tennessee likes to play fast with the horses it has -- redshirt sophomore Diamond DeShields among them. But the Lady Vols were listless on offense most of the way, including a miserable 1-of-19 from behind the arc.
"They make other teams speed up," said Panousis, who said the Hokies worked the clock throughout.
Tennessee was outscored 21-6 in the fourth quarter. The Lady Vols shot 24 percent in the second half.
With two minutes to go, Panousis begin to feel it. We're going to win, she thought, sizing up the energy from the Hokies bench. What she didn't know at the time: The 43 points was a program low for Tennessee.
As for Tech, Panousis' 13.5 ppg is best on the team (she tallied 16 in the game prior to Tennessee, a win over Penn State). Having freshman Chanette Hicks so adept at the point has been a boon. Panousis played point most of last season and has moved to the other guard spot.
"Chanette has been great for us; she's one of the reasons I'm shooting so well," said Panousis, .467 from three-point range. "It's been really cool to learn the 2 spot and to adjust to that position."
All credit to the Hokies, and Panousis, named ACC and espnW Player of the Week. ACC play awaits, though five games at Cassell, wins we think, come first. But we gotta think the Hokies are on a Rocky Top high after earning their first win over Tennessee in eight tries.
"From the time that I've been a coach, we have never beaten a team of the stature of Tennessee," Tech coach Dennis Wolff said after the game. "This has been a historically good program, and we've been trying to work to get it back to where it was previously. . . I don't want to say that we're back, but we're headed in the direction."