"Absolutely," LSU forward LaSondra Barrett said. "It was physical. Playing a team like Tennessee you'd better have your mouthpiece in. Because they are very physical. The SEC is physical.
"But just the environment, the crowd, all the fans that came out, just all the energy, the atmosphere in the building made it really special today."
The best news of the day for Pat Summitt - besides the win, of course - was word from Jenny Moshak that Kelley Cain was cleared to play. After Saturday's practice, Summitt said Glory Johnson would likely start because Cain was limited with her sore hip and back, but the 6'6 center warmed up, jumped center and scored her first basket 45 seconds into the game en route to tying her career high with 19 points.
"Kelley did a great job, just really proud of her," Summitt said. "I wasn't sure if she was going to be able to go today and I told Jenny, ‘I don't know if we can win without her,' and Jenny goes, ‘She can play.' She obviously played very well."
LSU Coach Van Chancellor agreed about Cain's level of play, and she seems to particularly elevate her game against LSU. She entered the game shooting 94 percent in three career games against the Lady Tigers and was 9-13 on Sunday.
"I think when Cain sees LSU lights just go off," Chancellor said. "She thinks Santa Claus is coming to town. It's because she scores against us. Oh, Lord. I told her I'll be glad when she becomes a senior. She had a great game for them. She's a load for us to guard. … I wish she would have left her in Knoxville. She's an impossible matchup for LSU."
Cain needed a break less than three minutes into the game to stretch her hip, and Johnson entered at the 17:17 mark. Johnson missed her first shot, got the rebound and hit the stick-back and scored again at the rim to knot the game at 10 at the 14:34 mark of the first half.
"That's a confidence boost right there," Summitt said. "Obviously when she came in and made those shots, she pretty much got on a roll and played both sides of the ball."
Johnson noted, "At the same time I think it helped our whole team. Sometimes when we're not hitting shots and we're not hitting outside shots and the posts are not really getting the touches we kind of start rushing and turnovers.
"When anyone hits any shots back-to-back like that I think it picks up the whole team and we all gain confidence."
Tennessee dominated the points in the paint, 46-24, and it was a timely performance from the post players because the Lady Vols went 0-7 from behind the arc, marking the first time since Jan. 21, 1999, at Florida that Tennessee didn't hit a trey, a streak of 422 games with a made three-pointer until Sunday. Tennessee won that game, too, 77-64.
"When something is not working you've got to go to something else, and we just have so much to bring," said junior forward Alicia Manning. "Their shots weren't falling and obviously we were killing in the paint so give it the posts. That just shows how versatile we are."
Angie Bjorklund, who just set the program record for career three-pointers in the last game, and sophomore Taber Spani were held scoreless. It was the first time for the senior sharpshooter since an SEC tourney game against Alabama, a 68-49 win on March 5, 2009.
"When Angie and Taber aren't scoring we have to go to other people, and other people are going to step up," Cain said. "I think that it speaks volumes about our team."
Bjorklund and fellow starters Shekinna Stricklen and Meighan Simmons were sitting side by side on the bench for most of the first half - Stricklen played just five minutes, Simmons tallied six, Bjorklund got to 11 only because Summitt put her back in when yet another player picked up a second foul for the final three minutes before the break - and were among six Lady Vols to pick up two fouls before halftime. The other three were Cain, Manning and Kamiko Williams.
Williams and Manning nearly went the distance in the first half - both logged 15 minutes - as they had to replace starters in foul trouble.
"I think depth has been really very, very good to us," Summitt said. "That way we know we can keep bodies fresh and rotate them."
"It was definitely our depth," Cain noted when asked about the difference in the game.
Eight players logged the bulk of the minutes - with Alyssia Brewer grabbing two boards in four first half minutes of play to get Cain a break - with Manning and Williams combining for 10 points and seven boards before halftime to help the Lady Vols overcome a seven-point first-half deficit and claim a 35-29 lead at the break.
"I think that our depth has proved several times this year that we're really strong and Coach can put anybody out there and the level of intensity won't drop," Manning said. "With three of our starters going into foul trouble obviously we knew we had to step up and I think we did what we were supposed to do.
"Second half the starters got back in and once again Coach had to sub in and out and kept fresh legs out there, and I think it really paid off."
Williams tallied 13 points, four rebounds, one assist, a block and a steal for the game. She repeatedly ran a play to clear out one half of the court and use a screen to drive to the basket - a few times with the shot clock about to hit zero - but LSU didn't stop it.
Manning was 4-4 from the line and finished with eight points, five rebounds and two assists in addition to her scrappy play on defense.
"A-Town has always been that defensive spark," Cain said. "She just brings a lot of energy with her game, whether it's on offense or defense. She's constantly yelling. She's constantly running across the floor, diving on the floor, doing the dirty work like Coach said. That raises our level of intensity also."
After LSU had trimmed the second half lead to five points, Manning shot faked from the key and drove into the paint for a 57-50 lead with 6:43 left in the game.
A-Town (Manning), she plays within herself and she does a great job," Summitt said. Kamiko, she got paint points as well. And they just battled. They really battled."
Chancellor noted that depth in his post-game remarks.
"They don't have any bad players so whoever they sub in does a good job," Chancellor said. "And they've got so much competition for playing time when you get your little opportunity you'd better play. Your opportunity may not come for another game or two.
"This is about the deepest team I've seen in college basketball in a long time."
Chancellor mentioned the end of the 11-year streak of Tennessee connecting on at least one three-pointer in a game - of the seven team attempts, three were pretty wide open looks - and he expected the Lady Vols to use size to their advantage, but he expected better perimeter defense from his team.
"I thought they would dominate us in points in the paint. I am not surprised at that," Chancellor said. "I think it's been 10, 11 years since they haven't made a three ball. I didn't think our on-ball defense was good enough. I think Tennessee penetrated to the basket."
Chancellor also pointed out that Tennessee had no need to launch from long range. The Lady Vols entered the game averaging 19.7 trey attempts and 7.1 makes, but just seven shots went up from behind the arc - two each from Spani and Simmons and one each from Bjorklund, Williams and Stricklen.
"We didn't give them very many good looks, but they didn't need to shoot the three ball (Sunday)," Chancellor said. "When you've got Cain and Johnson inside, why would you shoot the three ball. That's why she's the coach of the lifetime."
Johnson and Cain accounted for eight of Tennessee's first 10 points and when Stricklen (14:53 mark), Simmons (13:34) and then Bjorklund (12:06), headed to the bench with two fouls each, the Lady Vols found themselves down seven points, 17-10, with 11:31 left in the first half.
Williams got to the paint, and Johnson and Cain scored at the rim. Tennessee switched to a zone defense - LSU was pulling Cain and Johnson away from the basket and getting to the paint in the man scheme - and after a block by Cain who ventured to the corner to do so, Johnson got the defensive rebound.
In Tennessee's ensuing offensive possession Johnson leaped for a ball lobbed well over her head by Williams, came down with it and hit the layup for a 21-20 lead with 7:14 to play before halftime to take the lead with three starters watching from the sideline.
"That was huge," Summitt said. "It gave us a lot of momentum. We really just got up and down. We wanted a fast-paced game, and we didn't exactly start out that way, but once we talked about that they were up and down. I think LSU prefers a little bit more of a slowdown game, but they picked their pace up as well. I am just pleased that we could keep that pace and still be efficient offensively and also get after it on the defensive end."
Manning got fouled snaring a defensive rebound and hit both ends of the one and one and then Williams hit a baseline jumper. Manning found Cain inside for back-to-back baskets and the Lady Vols claimed a 29-22 lead at the 4:23 mark.
Brewer came in so Cain could take a break to stretch her hip and lower back and apply some heat, and consecutive baskets from Williams on the baseline, Johnson, who somehow kept the entry pass from going over her head and out of bounds and Manning, who drove, missed, got the ball back and hit the putback gave Tennessee a 35-25 lead with 1:45 before the break.
Tennessee's first half scoring was done but LSU got two frees and a layup from Courtney Jones to close to 35-28 so Cain returned for the final 52 seconds to be a deterrent to inside scoring. LSU got a Barrett free throw for the 35-29 score at halftime.
Tennessee had 13 first half fouls - LSU was in the bonus at the 13:34 mark of the first half and got two shots at the 9:05 mark - but the Lady Tigers were 5-13 from the line before halftime and 12-22 for the game.
"I'm mystified. I can't answer it," Chancellor said when asked about how well his team shot from the stripe vs. UCLA compared to the abysmal stat on Sunday. "We shot more shots, more free throws, more field goals with more three-pointers since coming back from UCLA. We shot more free throws (in practice) than we have all year. I guess it proved we ought to quit shooting them in practice."
Tennessee missed one after the other during pre-game warmups but then hit 3-3 in the first half and 19-23 for the game from the line.
"There's a reason they call it free," Summitt said. "They've got to get in the gym. I think we've done a better job of that and made it more of a priority. This team has to make it a priority all of the time."
Johnson indicated that the players have taken Summitt's advice, which she has delivered quite loudly and clearly in the past two weeks.
"I think we finally hit our free throws consistently, including myself," said Johnson, who was 3-3 for the game. "It's not that we don't shoot at least 100, 200, 300 a week. It's mentally once it gets in our head that we're not going to miss, we don't miss.
"We know we can hit our free throws. We shoot so many every day, including in practice and out of practice."
Johnson worked with the first team Saturday during the scouting session when it appeared Cain would not start because of her hip. But by tipoff, Cain was on the court, and Johnson was coming off the bench.
"She puts the starters in to start the game off right and if they don't she looks to the bench," Johnson said. "It doesn't really matter who. … As long as you're playing your game and you're playing as hard as you can and we come out with a W it doesn't matter who starts."
"With our team, ultimately, anybody could start," said Cain, whose starting status seems wholly dependent on her health. "That's just how good our bench is. That's how good everybody is. I feel like anybody on this team can start. It really doesn't matter who starts it. It only matters who finishes it."
The original starters returned for the second half, and the scoring philosophy remained the same as both Simmons and Stricklen fed Cain the ball and Simmons got to the line for Tennessee's first six points and a 41-35 lead with 17:20 to play after LSU trimmed the lead to two, 37-35, on a three-pointer from Barrett that got the crowd revved.
Johnson checked in at the 15:44 mark and converted a catch-and-shoot off a missed 3-pointer from Simmons for a 45-35 lead with 15:22 to play.
Johnson followed that with a block on defense, and Simmons found her underneath for a layup and 47-35 lead and Chancellor wanted a timeout with 14:40 left. Destini Hughes missed a three-pointer out of the timeout, and Simmons was fouled on the way to the basket. She made both free throws for a 49-35 lead with 14:16, and Tennessee appeared to be well in control.
Cain left for a breather at the 10:45 mark with the lead at 10 points - freshman Jeanne Kenney hit a three-pointer to bring LSU to 51-41 - and the Lady Vols tried to stay in their zone defense until Kenney hit another three to trim the lead to 51-44 with 10:16 to play.
3s "My mindset was to score," Kenney said. "I came in the game to score. We ran some really good plays that got me open, especially with our zone (offense). Ball movement helps so much in a zone, and we moved the ball really well and just hit the open player."
Chancellor added, "Pat and them went to a zone so we subbed based upon that and I thought Kenney got them out of the zone. It was really good to see Jeanne Kenney make some shots."
Cain checked back in at the 8:26 mark - Summitt continued her eight-player rotation in the second half - and Stricklen and Manning went to work inside on offense with Manning scoring on the shot fake and Stricklen floating a teardrop jumper that was reminiscent of former LSU player Allison Hightower to keep Tennessee in front.
LSU twice trimmed the lead to five points, but the Lady Vols converted at the line and kept the lead in the seven to 10-point range for the final five minutes of the game.
Manning said LSU's second-half surge corresponded with Lady Vol lapses on defense.
"When we play hard on defense it correlates on offense, and there was a little time today when we weren't playing hard on defense, and we weren't going after loose balls," Manning said. "But then we got together and we rallied and we said, ‘We're going to win this game, and we've got to do the dirty work.'
"We realized when we went into the paint that's when we were effective so give it back to them and let these posts go to work."
When Cain missed her second of two free throws with 5:36 to play, Manning got the offensive board and the Lady Vols could bleed more time off the clock. Stricklen went back to the point spot, and Manning drove to the basket, was fouled and hit both shots for a 62-54 lead with 5:13 to play.
Instead of LSU getting the ball down six with a chance to cut the lead in half with a trey, Tennessee increased its lead to eight points.
"Obviously when you go on the road and you play an opponent like LSU you know it's going to be a battle and it was," Summitt said. "Really pleased with our defensive intensity. I thought we did a lot of things that were very positive for us and to be 19 of 23 from the free throw line, that was big, getting paint points and getting in there and doing what we had to do.
"Overall, board play, 42 boards, that right there tells you that we're battling hard on the glass. I'm just really proud for our team. They had a lot of grit and they hung in there. They fought every possession. It obviously is a big win for this team."
LSU kept the outcome in suspense with three-pointers from Jones and Adrienne Webb to pull LSU to 70-61 with 40 seconds to play, but Williams hit three of four free throws down the stretch, and Webb connected on two after a late foul by Simmons with eight seconds left for the final 73-65 score.
After the game, both coaches were happy with the effort of their team.
"If our team can continue to play like this we're going to be fine," Chancellor said. "I am not discouraged with our team today. We played a great team. We played a team I think has got a shot to be a national champion or be in the Final Four. We had a shot at winning and couldn't make the plays. So I am not discouraged with us at all."
Tennessee, the defending SEC champs, was picked to finish first in the league by the media and coaches. LSU was picked fifth by the media and third by the coaches. Sunday was the league opener for both teams so Kenney was playing in her first SEC contest.
"I learned that our goal is to beat Tennessee," Kenney said with a smile, "but overall Tennessee is a great team. They really are, and we competed today. Coach told us that in the locker room. We are sad that we lost this game, but we've got to come out with the same intensity for South Carolina and the rest of the SEC games."
The Lady Vols conference home opener is Thursday against Alabama, and Manning, a junior, has experienced enough SEC games to know the effect Tennessee has on the opponent.
"Being SEC champs, we have a target on our back," Manning said. "We know every SEC team we play they want to beat us. It's like their national championship is if they beat us. So we've just got to bring it every game no matter who we're playing."
The Lady Vols will practice Monday and then get a day off Tuesday, the first in eight days since school is out. Summitt said Cain could have both days off the court, which brought a smile to the 6'6 center, who was packed in ice across her midsection.
"I wasn't sure either (about playing status) but Coach told me she needed me so I went out there and played the best I could," Cain said. "It's something I have been dealing with since the season started. It's just day to day for me."
That effort was 19 points - tying her career high set against Florida on Feb. 14, 2010 - eight rebounds and four blocks.
"She's an impossible matchup for LSU," Chancellor said when asked about teams matching up with the size of Cain. "I don't think she's an impossible matchup for Brittney Griner (of Baylor) but she's an impossible matchup for LSU. I don't know of anything about her that ain't a problem - strong, runs, jumps."
Tennessee presented double trouble Sunday as it was able to get strong play from two posts who could stay on the court together and didn't have to sub out for each other. Johnson logged 32 minutes and Cain added 29.
"Significantly better," Summitt said when asked about the combined duo on the court. "They know how to defend on both sides of the ball. On (offense) we can go to Kelley, we can go to Glory. Their skill sets have been so much improved. That's a tough guard for most people."
Cain noted, "All I've got to say is I'd hate to be on the opposite team. I wouldn't want to guard us either."
Barrett, a 6'2 junior forward who led LSU with 15 points on 6-12 shooting, has played in her share of Tennessee games and acknowledged the size differential but said the Lady Tigers also broke down fundamentally.
"I think it hurt us rebounding, but it's nothing new," Barrett said. "We've played Tennessee before. We've beat them before. They are a tough team but we know our positions, we know our block-out principles, and we kind of failed on a couple of those on some possessions. But the size is not the reason why we lost the game.
"Free throws and boxing out is what hurt us."
Barrett plays inside at 6'2 along with the 6'2 Taylor Turnbow, and a nice development for LSU was the late play of 6'4 freshman Shanece McKinney, who made her field goal attempt, grabbed two boards and got a block on Cain.
"Shanece McKinney came in and gave us a couple of good defensive stops and Taylor Turnbow had a couple of good possessions, but we just have to be consistent with that," Barrett said. "We can't have two defensive plays really good and then take five off. We just have to be more consistent on the defensive end when playing Tennessee."
Katherine Graham, a 5'11 senior guard, pointed out the size of Tennessee spreads about the court.
"They just have tremendous athletes," Graham said. "At any point in the game they can play all five positions over six feet. I think sometimes they cause matchup problems for a lot of teams in the SEC. They have great post players, great guards. They are just a well-rounded team.
"Playing Tennessee you have to bring your ‘A' game at all five positions and even coming with subs off the bench."
Johnson came off the bench for Tennessee and accounted for 19 of the 40 points the Lady Vols got from non-starters.
"I think her starting on the pine motivated her," Chancellor said. "When you've got the players they've got you can do a lot of motivating. The way to motivate players today is to sit them down. I think when she came in she was ready to play, and she did play.
"She had a great game. She was very active. She was active on defense, active on rebounding, active everywhere."
Chancellor knew Johnson played well but when he put on his reading glasses to peruse the final box score closely, that got his attention even more.
"I didn't realize it. 19 and 15?" Chancellor said referring to Johnson's points and rebounds. "That might be Player of the Week. If it's not I want to see what is. … Johnson came in and was outstanding. She was a terror on the boards."
It's a performance from Johnson that Summitt has sought consistently because the athletic forward has speed and leaping ability and can get to the rim.
"We're at a different level when Glory Johnson is playing that way," Summitt said. "She is now really focused on getting in the gym, getting up a lot of shots, and that makes all the difference.
"Dean (Lockwood), bless his heart, he drags her in there, and they get a lot of shots up before we start practice, which is very beneficial, but I think her composure has been so much better. … She has been very, very efficient and very coachable."
Cain added, "When Glory has that confidence that she had today and how she finished, 8-13, that just shows how good our post play is as long as we just get our post touches and we have composure. The level that Glory played today just stepped everybody else's game up around her.
"Whenever she plays to that level it makes everybody 10 times better."
Tennessee won the rebounding battle, 42-31, with 15 from Johnson and eight from Cain.
"You've got to do that when you go on the road.," Summitt said. "We didn't have all the fans that we typically have at home, but we had some orange in stands. You've got to have that mindset.
"I always say defense and boards is where you win championships, because you never know when you're going to have an off shooting night and if you do you've got to have something to fall back on and that's our defense and board play."
LSU was led by Barrett with 15 points and got 28 off the bench, led by 11 from Kenney and 10 from Jones. The Lady Tigers had 12 assists, 14 turnovers and 10 steals.
LSU shot 37.1 percent (23-62) overall, 30.4 percent from behind the arc (7-23) and 54.5 percent from the line (12-22). The stat from the stripe was particularly bothersome to LSU because the Lady Tigers had a chance to create separation in the first half but kept misfiring from the line.
"We've got to get back to practice and work on being consistent. … That's a part of our game we're going to have to improve," Graham said.
Tennessee was led by Cain and Johnson with 19 points each and Williams with 13. The Lady Vols had eight assists - though Spani found Cain underneath , as did Simmons to Johnson in the second half that were not scored as helpers - and 18 turnovers with seven blocks and six steals.
Tennessee shot 50.0 percent overall (27-54), 0.0 percent from long range (0-7) and 82.6 percent (19-23) from the line. That latter stat leaped out for Chancellor, because of the Lady Vols' issues at the stripe this season.
"Totally shocked me," Chancellor said. "I thought that was the difference in the game. Forget everything else."
LSU finished the game able to point to a solid game overall with some patchwork needing to be done.
"Our effort and our energy coming out was great," Barrett said. "We had a lot of support from the bench, from the coaches, each other out on the court. We played team basketball. We just have to carry that for 40 minutes."
Summitt was just happy for the win, so much so that she didn't mind the trey streak coming to an end.
"It's OK," Summitt said. "We leave here with a W."
VIDEO COVERAGE: Videos of post-game press conferences.
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt
Lady Vol players Alicia Manning, Glory Johnson, Kelley Cain
LSU players Katherine Graham, LaSondra Barrett and Jeanne Kenney
LSU Coach Van Chancellor