Just when outsiders had written them off, Kentucky's players found a way to get that signature win they desperately needed, 66-56 over No. 13 Tennessee on Thursday.
Going into the game the Cats had lost six of their last seven games. They were 3-7 in the Southeastern Conference and in tenth place in the standings.
"We knew this was a great opportunity that we couldn't let slip by," senior Eleia Roddy said. "We've let so many opportunities slip by this year for one reason or another, but this one right here, we had to capitalize on it.
"We knew if we wanted to turn our season around, we had to do it now."
As UK mounted its 24-6 run midway through the second half to grab a 17-point lead on the two-time defending national champions, a season-best crowd of 6,868 seemed to start believing Kentucky could turn its season around as well.
Amani Franklin and Roddy each had 18 points for Kentucky (14-12, 4-7 SEC). Carly Morrow added 13 points and Amber Smith had 10 for the Cats, who hadn't beaten the Lady Vols in Memorial Coliseum since 1986. UK's last win over Tennessee was in 2006 in Rupp Arena.
"I can't even put this into words or numbers," said Smith, who scored eight in the second half. "I'm just happy."
Victoria Dunlap had an off shooting night but finished with 15 rebounds and three steals to go with her four points. Guard Carly Ormerod had just three points but pitched in with six rebounds and six assists.
It was Kentucky's first win versus a ranked opponent this season and just the teams' seventh win ever over the Lady Vols (18-8, 7-4).
"We wanted it more," Franklin said. "We showed we wanted it more."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt said it was clear that UK wanted it more.
"In 35 years of coaching, this group has been the lowest energy of any team I've coached," Summitt said. "I'm not good at coaching effort.
"It was totally a lack of passion. ... I don't know that you can give that to a player. They have to decide who they are and what they're willing to invest."
Tennessee showed signs of life in the final part of the second half, using a 12-2 run to pull within seven points with 2:22 remaining.
"I was never comfortable in that game until the last 30 seconds," said UK Coach Matthew Mitchell. "You knew they were going to make another run at us."
The Vols held UK without a field goal for the game's final 7:40, but the Cats' initial surge gave them a lead that was too large to overcome.
"We've come from behind five times this year and won," Summitt said. "They think they can flip the switch and win. You can't do that with a team like Kentucky and the way they were playing."
Kentucky made three of its final four foul shots in the game's waning 1:13 to seal to victory. The Cats' defense held Tennessee to 31.3 percent shooting in the second half and 35 percent for the game.
UK's dribble penetration and easy layups in the second half allowed it to shoot 48 percent and go on that huge run in the second half.
"They played with more fire and got up and down the floor so much better than we did," Summitt said.
Kelly Cain led the Vols with 16 points. Alex Fuller added 13 points.
Both players seemed disgusted with their teammates after the loss.
"It's time for them to grow up," Fuller said of the young group, which included three freshman starters.
"It's past time they grow up," Cain echoed.
It did not look like Kentucky's game to win early on. The Cats stumbled out of the gate, missing their first seven shots and allowing the Vols to grab a 10-0 lead.
But UK used a 10-2 run to get back in behind six points from Roddy, who had 12 points at the half.
Four different times in the first half, Kentucky tied the game before grabbing its first lead 29-28 on a Franklin 15-footer with 1:15 left.
The game was tied 29-29 at intermission.
Kentucky, which played five players 31 minutes or more, didn't show signs of fatigue at the end.
The players just found the way to get their signature win.
"Our players played with a lot of fight, a lot of energy and great, great effort," Mitchell said. "It's a tremendous win for Kentucky."