KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's Diamond DeShields is starting to show the form that made her one of the nation's top freshmen at North Carolina two seasons ago.
Four days after being held scoreless, the former Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year knew it was time to step up for her new team. DeShields responded by scoring 17 points and making numerous big plays down the stretch Monday as No. 4 Tennessee hung on for a 59-57 triumph over Chattanooga.
"I wanted to give more," DeShields said. "I felt like the past few games, I was kind of holding myself back and I just wanted to give more. I knew I could do more than my past two performances, so whatever the outcome was, I was trying to give more effort tonight."
Tennessee (4-0) needed that kind of effort to survive Chattanooga, which nearly came all the way back from a 23-point deficit as it attempted to stun the Lady Vols for the third time in the last four seasons.
Chattanooga (3-2), which trailed 36-13 midway through the second quarter, cut the lead to 53-51 on Ansley Chilton's 3-pointer with 2:49 left.
"It felt like an out-of-body experience," Chilton said. "I've always watched Tennessee play on their court growing up, and it was so cool to actually be out there and compete against Tennessee, a team we were so hungry to beat."
DeShields collected four points, an assist and a steal during a 6-2 run that extended the lead to six. Tennessee stayed in front the rest of the way, though Jasmine Joyner's 3-pointer at the buzzer cut the final margin to two.
This represented a breakthrough performance for DeShields, who had shot a combined 2 of 16 and had totaled four points in victories over Penn State and Syracuse last week. She failed to score against Syracuse.
DeShields is shaking off the rust that accumulated while sitting out the 2014-15 season due to NCAA transfer rules. DeShields also is still recovering from a leg injury that Tennessee coach Holly Warlick has labeled as shin splints.
"I'm definitely feeling better every week, and I do expect to be 100 percent very soon," DeShields said.
Mercedes Russell had 13 points and Bashaara Graves added 10 points and 11 rebounds as Tennessee earned its 26th straight home victory. Queen Alford had 19 points to lead Chattanooga.
After the teams traded baskets to start the game, Tennessee reeled off 17 straight points to take command.
Chattanooga got back into it with its zone defense and 3-point shooting. The Mocs went 7 of 15 from 3-point range, shot 60 percent overall in the second half and outscored Tennessee 50-33 over the final three quarters.
"It wasn't very pretty," Warlick said. "I'm not very happy. We'll take the win and move forward."
Chattanooga: The Mocs fell out of the Top 25 earlier Monday after losing 54-43 at Indiana last week.
Tennessee: Graves had her third straight double-double and the 24th of her career. She entered the night tied with South Carolina's Alaina Coates for the lead among active Southeastern Conference players.
Chattanooga beat Tennessee 67-63 last season and also knocked off the Lady Vols 80-71 in their 2012-13 season opener to spoil Warlick's head coaching debut. Both those games were at Chattanooga.
But the Mocs haven't been nearly as successful in Knoxville.
Heading into Monday, Chattanooga had lost by at least 20 points in each of its previous 10 road meetings with Tennessee since the Mocs started their varsity program in 1975. Tennessee's records note that it lost at home to Chattanooga four times from 1971-73, before the modern era of women's basketball.
Tennessee has shot a combined 5 of 42 from 3-point range in its last three games. ... Alford was averaging just 4 points per game and Chilton was averaging 1.7 points per game before both cracked double figures Monday.
Chattanooga: Hosts Arkansas State on Wednesday.