It was immediately apparent how much the Stanford women's basketball team missed its star senior guard Brittany McPhee. She scored 15 of the Cardinal's first 26 points and finished with a season-high 27.
It wasn't enough to save No. 18 Stanford from losing to No. 7 Tennessee, 83-71, on Thursday, sending the Cardinal (6-6) into the Pac-12 Conference with its worst start after 12 games opening the 1998-99 season 4-8, when it finished 18-12 and got beat in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Stanford hosts UCLA in the conference on Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m.
"I want us to take this tough schedule and make it pay off," Cardinal coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We have to embrace the challenge. We need more consistent play."
McPhee returned to the Stanford lineup for the first time in over a month. She was limited to about 25 minutes and still managed to reach one off her career best in scoring.
"It was great having Brit back," VanDerveer said. "She made a statement. She set the tone."
Stanford trailed by as many as 17 points early in the third quarter before closing within six with 3:17 remaining on Marta Sniezek's steal and layup.
The Cardinal did do one thing no other team has been able to accomplish this season and that was to win the rebounding war, 48-35, including a 19-5 edge on the offensive boards, with the Lady Vols.
"Stanford is a great rebounding team," Tennessee's Jamie Nared said. "We would go on some big runs but they always came back."
Three players each had seven rebounds to pace Stanford: Kaylee Johnson, Alanna Smith and Nadia Fingall, who also scored eight points.
There was none of the regular ambience associated with the nonconference rivalry between the two traditional powers. No band, no students, no cheerleaders, no dollies, and no tree left the building relatively quiet.
Stanford's Alyssa Jerome drew the loudest applause after hitting a tough layup to bring Stanford to 66-55 with 6:30 left to play and causing a Lady Vols timeout.
McPhee hit a layup with 3:34 remaining to play in the second quarter, bringing the Cardinal within 36-30 of the Lady Vols.
Stanford missed its next six shots and Tennessee went on a 10-0 run, with Hayes scoring six, to take a 46-30 lead into halftime.
Maya Dodson made her collegiate starting debut for the Cardinal.