"I thought the key to our win was defense," said Fortner. "It's the one thing we've been preaching since the day this staff got here is teaching this man defense. This is how we play basketball here--pressure defense. I thought that's what turned it around for us in the first half when we got down 13 and that's what won us the ball game."
Payne finished the game with a near triple-double with 16 points, eight rebounds and eight blocked shots.
"Major Payne (Marita Payne) was a factor," said UT-Chattanooga head coach Wes Moore. "I thought in the first half we did a pretty decent job with her, but her presence was definitely felt defensively as well. Eight blocks is pretty impressive and she made us more of a perimeter-oriented team than normal."
The Mocs came out hot to the unusual 11:30 a.m. tipoff behind last year's Southern Conference Player of the Year Katasha Brown, who had 11 first-half points. However, Auburn was able to take a one-point halftime lead and never look back.
"They creeped right up on us," Brown said. "I looked up and all of a sudden we're down by one. I guess we kind of let our guard down."
Brown finished with 17 points and four rebounds.
Also with strong defensive efforts for Auburn were Nicole Louden and Tanesheia Thompson, who applied pressure to the Mocs' point guards and didn't let their offense get into rhythm.
"I was pleased with the way the game started," Moore added. "I thought we came out and shot the ball well early and then once we got a little bit of a lead Auburn turned up the heat defensively. I thought they became a little more physical. They put good pressure on the point guard and we just didn't respond well to that. Nineteen points in the second half isn't going to get it done."
After losing to Wisconsin-Green Bay and Louisville at the Banknorth Classic in Burlington, Vt., to open the season, Payne said it was important that the Tigers come home and get their first win of the 2004-2005 season.
"Coming together as a team with a new coaching staff, we didn't know what we were going to be about," she said. "Just trying to find ourselves as a team and trying to work through the defense and learn this new way has been tough. It's such a confidence booster to be able to come to your home court and win that game.
"It was huge for us," Payne added. "I can tell that people's confidence has been down after those two losses. We shouldn't have gone to Vermont and lost two games in a row. That was big-time that we came out and won today. It's going to help build confidence in everybody."
Auburn guard Louden had 16 points and four rebounds. Natasha Brackett, the Tigers' leading scorer entering the contest at 18.5 points per game, finished with seven points, six assists and four boards. Louise Emeagi added seven points and nine rebounds off the bench.
The Tigers return to action on Friday at 2 p.m. against Rice at the Xavier Tournament in Cincinnati. The next home game for Auburn is Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. against Grambling.