Lady Vols Rally Past Auburn in SEC Tourney

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Tennessee (27-3) came into it's SEC Tournament opener against Auburn flatter than an I-40 possum, but found it's inspiration in a nine-point half-time deficit and eventually turned Alltell Arena into Rocky Top West.

Facing early elimination against a team it has struggled with this season, No. 3 Tennessee responded with an impressive 44-20 second half, capped by a 23-5 run en route to a 66-51 victory.

Gwen Jackson led the Lady Vols' up-tempo effort, finishing the game with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Tasha Butts scored 15 points, highlighted by 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range, and pulled down 11 rebounds. Kara Lawson added 17 points, hitting 3-of-6 of her 3-point attempts.

When asked what was said in Tennessee's locker room during intermission, Jackson provided the abridged version of Coach Pat Summitt's fiery lecture.

"Defense and boards," Jackson succintly stated. "It wasn't that nice, but that was the message."

The Lady Vols got the essence of that message and answered in kind, holding Auburn (18-11) without a field goal in the final 6:47 of play and finishing with a 50-37 advantage on the glass.

"We were disappointed in the our first half," said Lawson, "but we showed why we're a a great team. It took all 11 players and we that's what we got."

Tennessee didn't get the offensive boost from the bench it's accustomed to as Shyra Ely and Shanna Zolman combined to shoot only 3-of-15 from the field, scoring all eight points provided by UT's reserves. Fortunately front liners Jackson, Lawson and Butts combined for 49 points and 25 rebounds, nearly equaling Auburn's team output. The trio also gave Tennessee the emotional boost it needed and added an ample helping of hard-nosed defense.

"Our defense had a stronger presence in the second half," said Summitt. "We rebounded better. Tasha Butts had a great game overall and gave us some good defense on the perimeter. Loree Moore starts our engines, sometimes she doesn't get enough credit."

Moore added eight points, hitting 4-of-7 from the field and dishing out a team-high four assists.

While Moore was getting the offense into high gear, Butts was putting the stops to Natasha Brackett who scored 17 first half points on 7-of-10 shooting with three field goals from behind the arc. Brackett finished with 22 points and was held scoreless after hitting a 3-pointer that gave the Lady Tigers a 39-30 lead with 14:47 remaining.

That proved to be the high-water mark for Auburn which shot just 7-of-30 from the field in the second half. Overall, the Lady Tigers hit 20-of-60 for 33 percent and held Tennessee to 35 percent (23-of-65), but the Lady Vols scored 15 points off turnovers.

"Every time we've seen Auburn we've seen a tough defensive team," said Summitt. "And they're one of the best rebounding teams we've seen."

Summitt may have hit upon a good motivational device during the break when she suggested to her team that staying and playing two more games might prove easier than going back home and practicing.

Whatever did the trick, Tennessee treated a partisan house to Big Orange basketball at its best during the second half and advanced to the SEC tourney semifinal match Saturday against the winner of tonight's Mississippi State-South Carolina contest.

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