18 Auburn turnovers, a bad shooting performance from the Tigers and a big and powerful inside attack, especially on the offensive boards, by the Vols was simply too much for Nell Fortner's team to overcome and pull off the upset.
Tennessee out-rebounded the Tigers 50-38, but the huge discrepancy was on the offensive glass where UT was able to pull down 24 offensive boards to Auburn's nine. The Tigers were also only able to hit 38.8 percent of their shots from the floor and were a miserable 2 of 16 on three-point attempts.
"Tennessee proved again how strong they are on the glass," Fortner noted. "They did not shoot well, but we could not keep them off the glass. They are very aggressive on the boards and that is how they win ball games. We had 18 turnovers and they had 24 rebounds, and you can't beat someone like that. However, it is promising that we were able to stick with them.
"We are not a physical post team," the Auburn' coach added. "We have struggled all year long with that. Our post players are more finesse players. That has its advantages, but its disadvantages are like tonight. We just need more big post players like they have."
Auburn was locked in a 43-43 tie with less than nine minutes to play in the game and with the chance to take its first lead since the 13-minute mark of the first half. But, a turnover led to a quick UT layup and that was the beginning of the end of the Tigers' upset hopes.
The Vols quickly stretched that two-point lead out to six, but the Tigers had one more answer in them and cut the lead back to two on a pair of quick scores from Natasha Brackett. However, a basket and a foul by Nicky Anosike on the next trip down the floor put the Vols up 54-49 and the Tigers could never recover.
Brackett had another outstanding game for the Tigers on Friday as she scored 18 points, which led all scorers, and pulled down five rebounds. Nicole Louden added 15 points and three boards in the loss.
Marita Payne was another bright spot for the Tigers in a tough loss. The Australian native continued the block party she started in the first round along with scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds. On Thursday the big center swatted four Kentucky shots, and she was even tougher inside against the Vols knocking away seven shots to move her season total to an SEC-record 141.
Marita Payne has been a shot blocking machine for the Tigers this season.
Anosike led the way for UT with a double-double. The big center scored 15 points and pulled down 10 boards. Brittany Jackson added 11 points and that included a pair of big three-point shots. Shyra Ely added 11 points and nine boards as well.
Coach Fortner's team played the secon-seeded Vols close in the first half despite not shooting the ball well, turning the ball over a number of times and being out-played in the paint in the early going by a bigger and more athletic Tennessee team.
Pat Summit's squad only out-rebounded the Tigers 24-21 in the first half, but they pulled down 11 offensive rebounds to the Tigers' three. Tennessee also held on to the basketball much better only turning it over four times to Auburn's 11.
The Tigers took the early lead and held on to it for almost the first eight minutes of the game. A Tye'Sha Fluker tip-in with 12:28 remaining gave the Vols their first lead of the half at 9-8, and they would not relinquish that advantage until the second period.
The Vols stretched that lead out to as many seven in the first 20 minutes, but an over the back foul by Fluker on a rebound with only one second remaining allowed Louise Emeagi to hit a pair of free throws that cut the lead to 25-21 going into halftime.
The Tigers were able to draw the game to a tie early in the second half on a Tanesheia Thompson layup with 17:34 remaining. The 28-28 tie didn't last long, however, as the Vols hit two quick three pointers to take a six point lead, but Auburn was able to answer and tie the game at 35 on a Louden three-point shot with 13:22 remaining.
The Tigers will now wait to learn their fate regarding the NCAA Tournament. A loss by Mississippi State to 11th seeded Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Tournament could prove to be a big boost to the Tigers' hopes. However, should they not get into the big dance, Auburn would certainly be invited to play in the Women's NIT.