Lady Vols live large in win over Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. – The Lady Vols were at full strength Sunday for the first time in two years and it showed on the frontline where the 6'2 Shekinna Stricklen – who led all scorers with 18 points – was the shortest post player in orange, as Pat Summitt was able to rotate her stable of bigs, prompting the opposing coach to use the word "big" seven times after the 73-53 win over Auburn.

For the first time in two years, Alyssia Brewer and Vicki Baugh played in an SEC game together, and both were effective, especially defensively and on the boards, in limited minutes.

"Lucky us," Auburn Coach Nell Fortner said. "I'll talk to Pat about that. They're big. They're just so big. But they're big, again, two through five. They can get real big on you fast. That's just another two players that they have to bang around inside."

Pat Summitt didn't plan ahead to go that deep in the bench – Brewer was traveling with the team for the first time Jan. 2 as she worked her way back from Achilles tendon surgery, and Baugh is a game-day decision based on knee comfort in shoot-around.

"I didn't know," Summitt said. "I usually go in hoping that our depth would be a factor, but it's kind of a wait and see. I liked what we saw and that allowed us to do a number of rotations as well and get people quality minutes."

Summitt knew she would have a size advantage against Auburn. The question was would she be able to deploy it. That was answered when Brewer entered in the first half, and Baugh checked in during the second.

"I think it was clear that we had a size advantage and whenever we use it to the best of our ability we normally dominate," Glory Johnson said.

Tennessee (19-2, 7-0) remained undefeated in league play against Auburn (12-8, 5-2) in its second SEC road win of the week. After a tepid performance Thursday against South Carolina, Summitt was pleased with her team's defensive effort against the Tigers at Auburn Arena, with plenty of Lady Vol fans scattered among the 7,536 in attendance.

"I like it," Summitt said of the new arena. "It was a great crowd, a really good environment. I think it's probably the ideal size, too. It's really impressive."

"Obviously I thought our team came ready to play," Summitt said. "You never know when you are on the road and in front of this environment. But I was very, very pleased with our intensity, commitment to playing defense and rebounding the ball.

"I thought we had a lot of good hustle plays, so just a really good effort overall against a very good Auburn team."

Summitt was able to use all 13 players on the roster, including the 6'3 Brewer and the 6'4 Baugh – who had made cameo appearances this season prior to Sunday afternoon –and thus taking a team with the 6'6 Cain, the 6'3 Johnson and the 6'2 Shekinna Stricklen across the frontline and making it even bigger.

"Having Kelley Cain in there, being able to sub me, Lyssi and Vicki off the bench, it's incredible," Johnson said. "Shekinna plays a lot bigger than she is obviously, so just having everyone crash the boards on the rebounds and putbacks is amazing."

When Summitt summoned Baugh off the bench, the redshirt junior forward was so eager to enter the game that she sprung off her chair, tugged off her warm-up shirt and tossed it behind the bench, took a few steps and realized her jersey had come off with it.

A sheepish Baugh, who wears a full-torso compression undershirt, retrieved the jersey and had she looked behind her would have seen a bench-full of laughter, except for Summitt, who was watching the action on the court and didn't notice.

"Did you undress?" Summitt said across the room to Baugh, who busted out laughing.

"It was great to see her play the way that she played. Vicki could definitely be a difference maker," Summitt said. "I like the quality minutes that she got."

"I was a little too eager, I guess," Baugh said after the game while Johnson and Stricklen laughed. "I started to undress before I got in, but at least I had my undershirt under it."

Baugh played seven minutes in the second half and tallied nine points on 3-4 from the field and 3-4 from the line with two rebounds in a short but efficient stat line.

"Yes, very much so," Summitt said of Baugh's efficiency.

It was the most points Baugh had scored since Feb. 2, 2009, when she tallied 11 points against Oklahoma and tore her ACL for a second time late in that game.

"I was just thinking I had to stay balanced," Baugh said. "And I knew the more I practiced consistently it would show up in games, and I've been practicing and haven't had to sit out in awhile, and I think it made a difference.

"I think I was very confident. I don't remember thinking about my knee at all. I didn't feel anything when I was jumping. I just think this is really going to help as far as a confidence builder."

It has been an arduous return for Baugh, who had a third surgery a year ago to fix a meniscus tear and one witnessed daily by her teammates, who were as excited for Baugh to enter the game as she was. She has played in 10 games this season but had appeared just once in the past six games prior to Sunday and last scored on Dec. 19 against Stanford with two points.

"We see her every day, especially last year, she was in the training room at least three or four times a day rehabbing," Stricklen said. "She was encouraging (us) and working hard to just get back. Finally seeing her get to play and the confidence – she came in and scored nine points in seven minutes – that's great.

"When she gets her confidence and keeps building it up, I think that's going to be another factor for other teams to guard. I just say teams better watch out."

Even with those layers of rust, Baugh presented an immediate matchup problem on the court, especially with defenders also having to account for Johnson and Stricklen.

"Not a lot of people know how to guard Vicki because she hasn't been out there, but she is a lot faster than a lot of people expect her to be," Johnson said. "And she's powerful in the weight room, how much she lifts, and whenever she's driving to the basket she goes as hard as she can.

"That's really hard to guard and it's tough to guard, especially when there's a smaller player on her or if there's guard trying to guard her penetration. Finally seeing her out there and finally watching her play and playing with her it's a great experience."

Adding Baugh and Brewer to Johnson (13 boards) and Cain (12 boards) makes Tennessee very difficult to check in the paint and keep off the glass.

"Thirteen boards for Glory Johnson and 12 (for Kelley Cain), that was good," Summitt said. "Kelley was all over the glass and very mobile, moved very well."

Cain had nine points, three blocks, three assists and three steals to go with her boards in just 22 minutes of play. A physical game against South Carolina had kept her out of Friday's practice, but she was nimble around the basket and even went to the floor for a steal.

"I'm ready for Kelley Cain to graduate," Fortner said with a smile.

The post depth also meant Cain didn't have to log extended minutes overall and when Summitt pulled her in the first half after 16 minutes and inserted Johnson, Brewer and the 6'1 Taber Spani across the frontline, Tennessee went to its "five" defense, in which it plays man and switches on every screen.

"We just couldn't find the basket," Fortner said. "They're big. They can get really big on you two through five. It's hard to see over things and see around. They started switching in their defense. It's hard to play against a switching man defense, especially when everybody looks the same, as far as their size.

"So, it just made it very difficult for us to find shots."

Brewer entered with 1:48 left before the halftime break, blocked a shot and held her own in the switching schemes, even when she got pulled away from the basket.

"It was good to see her get some good minutes," Summitt said. "It gives us a lot more size, and it was good to have her out on the floor."

Auburn didn't score a field goal for the final 3:36 of the first half, and the Lady Vols took a 34-19 lead into the locker room.

Stricklen set the defensive tone when she knifed into a passing lane, stole the ball and scored on the other end in the game's first 15 seconds. Jordan Greenleaf answered for Auburn with a midrange jumper after Morgan Toles drove and dished and Toles again drove around Meighan Simmons to the rim for a 4-2 lead for the Tigers.

That got Kamiko Williams in for Simmons at the 17:00 mark, but Toles twice went around Williams with relative ease, bringing Simmons back in a few minutes later at the 13:13 mark.

Simmons improved somewhat on defense – it's the steepest learning curve for freshmen – but struggled offensively, along with Angie Bjorklund – though the senior had three assists in the first half and a strip block – and neither had a point at halftime after shooting a combined 0-5.

Williams returned at the 5:18 mark of the first half and settled down on both sides of the ball, getting back-to-back assists on a feed to Cain inside and then finding Spani behind the arc.

Williams ended up logging 20 minutes for the game and although she was 0-4 from the field, she tallied four assists, grabbed three boards and after a shaky start turned in a solid defensive performance, especially when setting sideline traps with Baugh and Brewer in the second half.

"Kamiko, really pleased with her," Summitt said. "She had 20 minutes and did a lot of good things as well."

With Simmons struggling – she was 1-8 from the field but did hit a deep three in the second half and went 2-2 from the line to finish with five points, four boards and three assists – the presence of Williams at the point and her defensive abilities were especially needed Sunday.

"Miko came in with a lot of energy," Stricklen said. "You know Pat stays on Kamiko every day in practice – well, really not (just) in practice, she still stays on her – but we need Miko, and the coaches know that and we know that. Miko, she's really talented, she's quick, she's the best defensive player on this team, she can penetrate, she's hard to stop.

"She's an all-around player, and we really need her and I am glad the coaches stay on her, and we stay on her, and she came in and helped big today."

Stricklen led her team with 18 points and also grabbed six boards, including a defensive one in the first half that she took coast to coast to give Tennessee an 8-6 lead at the 16:18 mark that it would not surrender.

She scored a layup 18 seconds later after a steal by Cain, who found Stricklen for a 10-6 lead at the 16:00 mark of the first half.

Tennessee started the game shooting 55 percent from the field, hit a lull midway through offensively by missing eight straight shots and then flipped the game with its defense to close the first half.

"We were in our five defense and normally when we are in five everyone switches," Johnson said. "We try to be as aggressive as possible and go out on the shooters and try not to allow any three-point open looks.

"We try to do that the majority of the game but sometimes we have to drop back in our 2-3 (matchup zone), but whenever we're in our five we just have to talk and be aggressive and I think that helped a lot."

Tennessee didn't play much zone against Auburn because of the Tigers' ability to hit three-pointers. Auburn got open looks to open the game but misfired.

"We are not used to playing teams with that kind of size," said senior guard Alli Smalley, who had 13 points for Auburn and hit a long three – her only one in four attempts – as the buzzer sounded to end the game.

"They are long and when they slow us down in their press, we lost our flow a little bit, so we just weren't knocking down shots when we were getting open looks."

Tennessee dominated the first-half stat box with 20 points in the paint to four for Auburn. The Tigers put up zero in three categories – off turnovers, fast break and bench – to 11, 12 and 10, respectively for the Lady Vols.

All of Tennessee's bench points came from Johnson, who had 10 in the first half. The frontline of Johnson, Cain and Stricklen accounted for 31 of Tennessee's 34 halftime points.

Holding Bjorklund and Simmons scoreless for a half would seem to well position an opponent, but not when Stricklen has 12 points by halftime, including two deep threes.

"It's definitely to their advantage with her not playing the point," Fortner said. "She's such a good scorer. She's got great range on her three, and she's so powerful. She can play anywhere on the floor.

"Every timeout you've got to be figuring out, ‘OK, where's Stricklen? What position is she going to be when she comes out of the timeout huddle?' Because she plays every position. She's a nice player."

At 6'2 Stricklen also is short compared to the bigs alongside her on the court in Tennessee uniforms.

"Well, they pick on me a lot anyway," Stricklen said. "I think our frontline, we're doing really well, especially on the boards. Now that we have Vicki and Lyssi back they're coming in and fitting right with us. I think we're doing really well.

Glory, double-double, getting the points, putbacks. Kelley dominating, I just think we're just dominating. Our height is our big advantage."

Bjorklund didn't wait long to get in the scoring column when the second half started as she hit a trey for a 37-21 lead at the 19:09 mark on a pass from Simmons. The senior was 1-3 from behind the arc and now has 283 career treys – she already holds the Tennessee record – and sole possession of fourth place all-time in SEC history, passing Georgia's Cori Chambers (282).

The top three spots are held by Alexis Rack of Mississippi State (338); Cornelia Gayden of LSU (337); and Wendi Willets of Arkansas (316). Bjorklund is the only player still active.

The Lady Vols added to the lead to start the second half – helped by Cain again finding a streaking Stricklen and then Spani hit a corner three on a pass from Simmons – and led 46-26 with 16:55 remaining.

Auburn then began to chip away at the lead and got it to 11 points, 46-35, at the 13:40 mark on two Greenleaf free throws. Baugh entered the game at the 13:40 mark and scored 16 seconds later after getting an offensive board off a Williams' miss and hitting the layup for a 48-35 lead with 13:24 left.

But Auburn got a layup from Greenleaf, and Blanche Alverson nailed a three to cut the lead to 10 points, 50-40, with 10:25 to play.

Auburn never cut the lead to single digits, and the Lady Vols ratcheted up the defense – especially the sideline traps – and when Baugh hit a layup at the 7:47 mark, the lead was back to 16 points, 58-42.

The play was set up by a Stricklen steal, but she missed the layup and Bjorklund missed the putback before Baugh swooped in for the stick-back.

Brewer replaced Baugh with 7:09 left, and Bjorklund hit a jumper off a Johnson screen for a 60-42 lead. Brewer and Williams locked down another sideline trap, and Auburn was forced to call timeout.

"We were knocking shots down," Fortner said of Auburn's run to trim the lead. "When you play against them, you've got to make their breakdowns and their defensive mistakes, you've got to make them pay for them. We finally started knocking some shots down, and that gives you a lot of confidence when you do that.

"So the run was nice, and when we cut it to 10 we didn't show a lot of poise at that point to, ‘OK, now it's a ballgame. Now, let's make sure we take care of the ball. Make sure we take good shots.'

"We turned the ball over three times in a row and we didn't take good shots and all of a sudden, Tennessee's laying it up again."

After the timeout, Williams got the defensive rebound after a missed trey by Tyrese Tanner and Bjorklund hit a jumper in transition for a 62-42 lead with 6:22 remaining.

Summitt emptied her bench – all 13 players on the roster logged minutes – and although Stricklen tallied 33 minutes, no other player exceeded 26.

"We had good balance, so we didn't have to play a lot of players as long as we did," Summitt said. "Angie, I wanted to get her out earlier, but she was in a good rhythm as well (after misfiring in the first half)."

"It was good to see Vicki Baugh come in and play the minutes she played and play on balance," Summitt noted. "We got a lot of good things from a number of different players. I think our depth has really contributed to the success that we have had.

"Also, this team is very unselfish and also very, very committed to our defense and our boards."

Tennessee prevailed on the boards, 49-34, and recorded 12 steals after entering the game averaging just 4.3 thefts in SEC play.

"We had our hands up and got a lot of tips," Summitt said. "That's where you've got to be really aggressive. We've worked a lot on high hands and getting out in the passing lanes.

"We are not always as efficient as the coaches would like for us to be, but this game we were as explosive early, but I thought we really bought in to what we had to do from that standpoint as far as rebound the basketball and playing great defense."

The final five minutes allowed Summitt to get minutes for Briana Bass and Lauren Avant at the point spot and also wing duty for Sydney Smallbone.

The only suspense left was whether or not Johnson would dunk when she got a defensive rebound with 56 seconds remaining and Auburn let her dribble the length of the court with no resistance.

"I did, I did," Johnson said when asked if she thought about dunking. "I didn't know how happy Pat was at the time and coming in from the right side I wasn't too confident, but I knew that a layup's a layup and when I make it Pat will be happy.

"A dunk I might miss, and Pat might not be too happy so I am going to go with the safe side, finish the game and have Pat as happy as possible."

When it was pointed out that was a lot to process while dribbling past five Tigers, Johnson smiled.

"It is," Johnson said. "I kind of looked over (at the bench) a little bit. I didn't know if someone was coming from behind me or not. I was like, ‘The safest thing is a layup.' "

Smalley, whose bobble head likeness was passed out before the game, drilled a trey with one second left with the Auburn fans clamoring for her to shoot, several likely from her hometown of Arab, Ala., for the final 73-53 score.

"I think a bunch of people from Arab came today," Smalley said. "I know a lot of my family was here, but I think a lot of Arab people came, too."

Four freshmen logged minutes for Auburn and combined for six points on 3-14 shooting.

"It's hard to be thrown in there as a freshman against Tennessee, but I think one of the things we struggled with today was keeping that poise and that's one of the things freshmen have to learn because I looked one time and there were four freshmen on the floor with a junior," Smalley said.

"That's tough, but I feel they are only going to learn from that experience."

Smalley was a sophomore contributor when a senior-laden Auburn squad beat Tennessee by 14 points at Auburn in 2009 and then by 20 that same season in the SEC tourney. The Lady Vols were a predominantly freshman team then.

"Game-in and game-out in this league you've got tough competition, it's physical and that's just something you have got to learn and get used to," Smalley said. "Each year you are going to get better and get more comfortable playing against it."

Tennessee's talented freshman, Simmons, is making the same adjustment now that league play has started with teams so familiar with each other and plenty of scouting film available from out-of-conference games. Simmons likely also would be heartened by Smalley's answer when asked about the Lady Vols transition offense.

"They just get it out so fast," Smalley said. "As soon as the ball is off the rim, they grab it and they're gone. Simmons, their point guard, is extremely quick, and she's the one that generates that transition offense for them and she does a great job of doing that and getting it up the floor and finding the right person."

Auburn was led by Smalley with 13 points. Toles also tallied 13, and Greenleaf added nine points. The Tigers shot 34.3 percent (23-67) overall, 21.1 percent (4-19) from long range and 60.0 percent (3-5) from the line.

Auburn had 20 turnovers, 15 assists, eight steals and a block. Greenleaf led the Tigers with nine boards.

Tennessee was led by Stricklen with 18 points with Johnson tallying 16 and Baugh and Cain adding nine points each. Spani chipped in with eight points, and Bjorklund added seven.

Tennessee shot 43.1 percent (28-65) overall, 37.5 percent (6-16) from long range and 78.6 percent (11-14) from the line.

Tennessee had 20 turnovers, 15 assists – Williams led the team with four while Bjorklund, Cain and Simmons had three each – 12 steals and seven blocks.

Fortner began her post-game remarks with an intended understatement.

"I think Tennessee is really good," Fortner said with a laugh.

" I think they're definitely one of the top five teams in the country. I think they're playing a style of basketball that's just really tough to guard. It wears you out, and then they keep bringing players up off the bench that continue to put the pressure on you. … We've got some work to do to stay in a ball game with them, for sure."

For Sunday at least, Summitt was pleased with her team.

"Anytime you go on the road if you don't pack your defense and board play then you can lose at any given time, and I think our team has finally bought into that," Summitt said.

VIDEO COVERAGE: Post-game press conference videos.

Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt

Lady Vols Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen and Vicki Baugh

Auburn Coach Nell Fortner and Alli Smalley


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