Auburn ambushes Tennessee, 82-68

AUBURN, Ala. – Playing in front of the largest crowd ever for an Auburn basketball game – DeWanna Bonner had to hunt for a parking place and then scored a career-high 35 points – the Tigers ended a long stretch of futility against Tennessee on Sunday with an 82-68 win. Perhaps some solace for the Lady Vols: Coach Nell Fortner said she doesn't want to play them again.

Tennessee (15-4, 4-2) was led by freshmen Shekinna Stricklen, who scored a career-high 26 points, and Glory Johnson, who recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Their performance is an indicator of what's to come for the Lady Vols, but Coach Pat Summitt had to remind herself to be patient while a young team – four freshmen started Sunday – learns how to play college basketball on both ends of the court.

"We have a young basketball team and there are a lot of growing pains with a young team, but I still think that there is a great upside to where we can grow and get to by the end of our SEC regular season," Summitt said. "I am learning something about patience."

Auburn (20-0, 5-0) solidified its status as the top team in the SEC with a dominating performance in the second half led by DeWanna Bonner's 35 points and nine rebounds.

"To be honest, I didn't even know I had that many points," Bonner said. "It wasn't like I was just scoring on every possession. It was just kind of in spurts, but Tennessee played a great, physical game. They were so physical and 35 points that's really hard to do against a team like that. I relied on my teammates, and they kind of opened things up for me by them scoring."

Whitney Boddie had 17 points, and Alli Smalley hit 3 three-pointers and added 16 points for the Tigers.

As the final 60 seconds expired the Auburn student section chanted "Un-de-feat-ed," and a crowd of 12,067 – the largest to ever see an Auburn men's or women's basketball game with the current seating configuration of Beard-Eaves Coliseum – roared its approval of the resounding win for the Tigers.

Summitt had a message for those fans after the game: Where have they been?

"It's about time these Auburn fans got in the gym and watched their women play basketball," Summitt said. "I think Nell has done a great job. She's got a great team. We've been fortunate at Tennessee. Tennessee fans love basketball; they love women's basketball. They obviously love our men's team. I think it is great that Auburn had this kind of crowd today, and they've been having bigger crowds.

"And this community needs to get behind their team," Summitt added emphatically. "Not just while they are winning, but every time they play, because they've got a special team."

The fans spilled into the concourse area that ringed the coliseum – official capacity is 10,500 – between the upper and lower sections and remained standing throughout the game.

"I couldn't even find a parking spot," Bonner said. "I was just so excited because it took a while to get a crowd like that. I mean we never had a crowd like that in four years of being here. We started from nothing and now look at it – the crowd is blowing the building away. We've never beaten Tennessee and you finally get that win, it's just a big win. I was just really excited."

The players spilled into the crowd after the game ended as they climbed atop the basketball supports, entered the student section and also directed the pep band.

"It was awesome," Boddie said. "They were out there before we were there. There were a lot of people there and I hope they come back. They were like the sixth man for sure. … We were loose. That's the reason why we came to Auburn was to play in big games and have crowds like this and play Tennessee and have an opportunity to beat them. I don't think we were nervous by any means."

But what turned into a festive afternoon for Auburn basketball began with a somber ceremony as both teams lined up on the court and observed a moment of silence for N.C. State Coach Kay Yow, who died Saturday from breast cancer. All of the players wore long-sleeved shooting shirts that bore Yow's name, and Auburn provided the shirts for Tennessee.

"I certainly want to thank Auburn for making that happen," Summitt said. "Coach Yow, she was an incredible woman. She was one of my dearest friends in this profession, and it's been very difficult to see her fight and obviously in the end lose her battle with cancer. I think that without question she has touched more lives, not just her players and her staff, but people throughout this game, throughout this country.

"My heart goes out to her family, and right now I just have to know that Kay Yow is in a better place, but she fought hard," Summitt added in a voice that indicated how profoundly the death has affected her.

"It just hits home," Auburn Coach Nell Fortner said. "We're playing a basketball game and she lost her life and it was a sad reality when she passed. We all love Kay and she's been great for the game. She is just such a wonderful person."

The fact Fortner was talking about Yow in the present tense indicated how raw the emotions still were Sunday.

"That's the best thing about Kay was she was such a nice person," Fortner said. "You would never hear anyone say one ill word about her. It was never about Kay, it was never about her fight with cancer, it was always about getting more money for research. It was never about her. She was special."

Auburn played N.C. State this season on Nov. 29, 2008, when Yow was still on the sideline for the Wolfpack.

"It's pretty sobering and I made sure that my kids wearing that shooting shirt that had her name on it that they understood exactly what we were doing today and who we were honoring today," Fortner said. "We met Kay. We all met Kay so they all had the opportunity to meet her."

The teams remained in place for the national anthem and returned to the court seven minutes later for the tipoff. Auburn got out to a 7-2 lead when Tennessee could not stop the dribble penetration by Boddie, and the Lady Vols shifted into a zone defense early in the game.

"She is very quick," Stricklen said. "She can handle the ball well. We have to stay low in our stances and play the best defense we can. I give them a lot of credit. They were real quick and they can handle the ball real well."

The game for Tennessee likely turned at two critical periods – the end of the first half and the start of the second half. After taking a one-point lead, 23-22, on a layup by Kelley Cain off an offensive board with 2:48 to play in the first half, Tennessee squashed its own momentum with three consecutive turnovers – two by Amber Gray and one by Briana Bass – and Auburn responded with two free throws and a layup by Bonner and a jumper by Boddie to seize a 31-23 lead that it would never surrender.

Bass did grab some of the momentum back by draining a last-second heave shortly after she crossed center court, which pulled the Lady Vols to within 31-26 at halftime despite 13 first half turnovers and not a single free throw attempt.

"In the first half, we don't go to the free-throw line, so maybe that says something about us not being aggressive enough," Summitt said. "That is something I'll have to watch on tape. I think that is a first in my career. We did not play well. Auburn had a lot to do with it."

Tennessee started the second half with a layup by Johnson to get Tennessee to within three, 31-28, but then Auburn went on a 17-5 run and led 48-33 with 14:52 left. Tennessee was fouling and not getting back in transition – Auburn had 16 fast break points to zero for Tennessee – and the Tigers took advantage of every opening and eventually built a 24-point lead, 73-49, with 4:22 left to play.

"I thought two runs," Summitt said when asked about the momentum swings in the game. "I thought at the end of the half, we didn't do a good job of closing it out and to begin the second half, we didn't do a good job. Our guard play was not good. All you have to do is look at the turnovers that we had.

"Obviously Auburn had just a whole different commitment to running the floor. I think that is the most disappointing thing. They're a veteran team. They were aggressive. They put us on our heels. The think I can tell you is we've got to learn from this. We've got a lot more basketball left to play."

When Tennessee got down double digits to Vandy earlier this month the Lady Vols lost desire to finish the game. But, in a sign that lessons have been learned this season, Tennessee fought back and trimmed Auburn's lead to 73-63 in three minutes in a 14-0 run that was jumpstarted by Angie Bjorklund's three-pointer on a feed from Stricklen and Stricklen's three-pointer on a feed from Bjorklund to cut the lead to 18.

Some quick offense from Alicia Manning and aggressive play from Alex Fuller and Stricklen kept Tennessee within striking distance, but Auburn regrouped after the initial blows and preserved the lead and final 82-68 score at the free throw line.

"It's something that we should have learned," Johnson said. "Whether we're all in or out we have to keep playing hard throughout the whole game, no matter if we're down by 20 or down by two. We have to play the same way, and that's what hard. And when that doesn't happen, we struggle. But we'll bounce back. We'll be fine."

Summitt did laud the effort by Stricklen and Johnson on Sunday.

"I think with Glory and Shekinna that's two freshmen right there that they really compete hard and they're both bringing a lot to the court, both offensively and defensively," Summitt said. "Obviously, Glory got on the boards for us, which is huge."

Johnson still appeared upset in the post-game press conference, and Stricklen was upset in the locker room, prompting a pep talk from Summitt.

"She was really upset after the game, and I told her, ‘You had a solid game for us.' I couldn't ask much more from her," Summitt said. "She played 37 minutes. She's a special player; she's a great competitor. She sets a great example for us as well."

Fortner saw enough of the two freshmen to declare she didn't want to play Tennessee again.

"As far as Tennessee's freshmen, my gosh, they're very good," Fortner said. Shekinna Stricklen is going to be – I say is going to be; she already is – a heck of a player. Her range on the three ball is just wow. She can shoot it from downtown. I think she is going to be a special player. Tennessee has had a lot of special players, and I think she is following up right there.

"They are young, and I surely don't want to have to play them again; we might have to. Because they'll just keep getting better and better. They're getting a lot of great experience and they're going to just keep getting better and better."

Boddie said Tennessee's man defense was easy to pick apart from the perimeter.

"When they are in man they don't switch on their screens," Boddie said. "It gave me opportunities to create. DeWanna had some good screens and I got by and had a little step on them and sometimes I finished and sometimes I didn't. It was easy."

Summitt concurred with that assessment and tried to switch the defense – though Tennessee had to stay in zone for most of the game – to slow down Boddie.

"We went man, but we also played some zone sets," Summitt said. "It might have looked like man (in the second half when the Lady Vols were in the matchup). I felt like we needed to do a better job of keeping them in front of us. I don't think we had as much success with it, but we switched it up even in the second half as well. They picked us apart."

Tennessee also provided some gifts to Auburn with passes into the flat that Bonner picked – she had six steals for the game – and converted on the other end.

"I don't know why they kept honestly throwing that pass over there, but maybe they didn't see me back there because there was a lot of stuff going on and I just kind of sneak up in there in the passing lanes," Bonner said.

"She's so skinny they can't see her," Boddie added.

Summitt certainly saw the end result and although it was mostly freshmen on the perimeter making the errant tosses – Stricklen, Bass, and Gray combined for 11 turnovers – a returning player also contributed to the miscues as Bjorklund tallied four turnovers.

"We made flat passes and those equate to lazy passes as well because they didn't lift," Summitt said. "I thought our turnovers were very costly, but we had some upperclassmen turning the ball over quite a bit, too. Ball security has cost us and today was probably the most we had to pay for it."

Tennessee, once again, relied heavily on first-year players while Auburn started a team of veterans that had been waiting a year for a rematch with Tennessee after a 32-point loss in Knoxville a year ago.

"They are very, very confident, and they have reason to be," Summitt said. "They have experience, but at the same time, this Auburn team, in comparison to any team that Nell has had, they are much more aggressive, they play better off the bounce, they attack the rim. It's the most aggressive team that's she had, and they play well together. Their ball movement, the quickness that they showed in all aspects of the game, whether they were on defense or offense, or playing off the dribble – I just thought that they played with a lot more energy and demonstrated a lot more quickness than we did."

Tennessee tried to get some experience on the floor in sophomore forward Vicki Baugh, but she lasted for 19 seconds in the first half before limping to the sideline for an ice bag for her left knee. A visibly frustrated Baugh did not return to the game.

"I just think Vicki's not ready and I don't think we need to rush it," Summitt said. "And I don't think Jenny (Moshak) was rushing it. She felt like in the amount of time she worked with her and rehabbing the knee she felt like she was a lot stronger, a lot better."

Baugh entered Thursday's game against Arkansas and took a hit to the side of the knee within 60 seconds and was pulled. There was no contact Sunday.

"She wasn't in long enough to take anything except the sideline," Summitt said.

Tennessee did get 16 minutes of game action from Cain, who had six points and five rebounds and is trying to get back in game condition. Her presence helped inside, and Auburn initially struggled offensively as Tennessee forced the Tigers deep into the shot clock.

"It wasn't the crowd," Boddie said when asked if the packed house caused the team to start nervous. "It was their defense. Their defense kept stopping our transitions. They're long. I'm 5'2, no really I'm 5'7, but seeing over them was kind of hard. We were trying to run our plays with 11 seconds left on the shot clock. We weren't afraid of them by any means. I just give credit to their defense."

Auburn shot 37.0 percent in the first half but 58.6 percent in the second half to finish at 48.2 percent for the game.

"The first half when they were pressuring, we were just going back and forth," Boddie said, indicating the offense lacked purpose. "After that at halftime Coach was like, ‘When you get the ball, try to attack and penetrate and create some things.' They weren't really recovering well after the initial trap. All we really did was attack more."

Tennessee also shot well – 47.3 percent for the game – but it was a deceptive figure as Stricklen was 9-20, and nobody else attempted more than seven shots. Johnson was 5-7, and Fuller was 4-7, but Bjorklund misfired at 1-7, and the Lady Vols shot 30.0 percent from behind the arc, 6-20, with Stricklen accounting for four of the makes.

But it was the turnovers that Tennessee could not overcome – and tied its season high with 23.

"The turnovers really hurt us," Stricklen said. "I think that's really what killed us in this game. They gave it their all and we can see they gave a lot of effort. They were in the passing lanes and they were stealing the ball and getting extra points and and-ones off the layups. That really hurt us."

Two plays – one in each half – perhaps typified the afternoon for Auburn.

With the shot clock about to expire, Smalley heaved a ball from well behind the arc – she likely barely had a view of the basket – and it swished through the net to make the score 17-13 in the first half.

"I knew the shot clock was going down so I fell in behind Whitney," Smalley said. "I didn't even realize I was that far out. I just launched it."

When Auburn was making its second-half surge Tennessee tried to secure a loose Tiger ball in the paint and tipped it around before it landed in Trevesha Jackson's hands for an contested layup to give the Tigers a 64-46 lead with 6:53 left.

"They got all the hustle plays, and they looked like they wanted it more than we did," Stricklen said.

But the Lady Vols did make one last stand to knock out the 24-point lead, and Fortner and the Auburn players shared the blame.

"We were tired, I'm not going to lie to you, we were tired and I didn't feel like I could use my bench at that time because Tennessee can score in bunches like that," Fortner said. "You've got Bjorklund out there, you've got Stricklen out there, you've got (Sydney) Smallbone out. Boom, boom, boom and it's a different ball game, which basically is what happened, but we were tired. The one play when Stricklen got the ball, we scored, she got the ball and went down and dribbled it in and shot a layup. Just went right through us. Nobody could even move to go get her.

"We were trying to slow down a little bit. We had enough points to win the game; we just had to make big stops. We needed to use the shot clock a little bit, but when I tell my team to do that, that's what you get. They don't know how to play that way because we are used to playing fast; we want to push the ball, attack the basket. When you slow them down, it's like everybody starts standing and we don't get very good offense. So, that's what happened and that is probably my fault for doing that because they want to keep playing, but I don't want to give the ball back so quickly to Tennessee because they can shoot the three so well."

Boddie, who had eight turnovers on the day with several coming during that Lady Vol run, said she learned from those three minutes.

"I take the blame for that, too, because a lot of those were my turnovers," Boddie said. "It came from getting out of what we're used to doing. It's game management. You want to use some clock but at the same time you don't want to get out of what you do best."

What Tennessee has historically done best is play defense and rebound the basketball. Auburn prevailed on the glass, 31-30, and the Lady Vols are struggling to stop teams, and especially star players.

"Basically, we need to play every part of the game the same way," Johnson said. "It should be us playing hard. We should be going all out every possession. When that doesn't happen and we slack off, other teams take advantage of us and that's exactly what Auburn did. We can't slack off at any point in the game. We have to play a 40-minute game, and it's hard, but it's just something you have to buy into. You have to devote yourself to playing hard and when that doesn't happen, we struggle, and that's what happened."

Johnson grew up in Knoxville and had attended games for years before becoming a Lady Vol. She knows what the standards are for Tennessee basketball players.

"Going to watch games when I was younger I automatically expected Tennessee to kill teams," Johnson said. "I expected them to beat teams by 20 points at half. It's a little different when you have to actually experience it for yourself. It's hard. It's a lot harder than it looks. You've got to put it all out there and if you don't you're not ready to play.

"If you want to put on the orange you have to actually commit yourself to the team. If not, if you let up one day, you'll get beat like this. Today is not a good day to be wearing the orange, but this is something that you have to deal with and work off of and come back hard the next time."

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