Sunday, January 01, 2012

No. 7 Tennessee tops Auburn 73-52 in SEC opener

The Tennessee Lady Vols won going away in a game when their shots weren’t falling. Hounding Auburn into mistakes helped.

Meighan Simmons scored 20 points and the seventh-ranked Lady Vols closed on a big run in opening Southeastern Conference play Sunday with a 73-52 victory over the Tigers.

Tennessee (9-3, 1-0 SEC) came into the game last in the league in scoring defense, giving up 63.5 points a game, but forced 25 turnovers and had 12 steals.

It was more than enough to earn the Lady Vols a 34th-consecutive SEC win— and a ride back to Knoxville.

“In the first half, our offense affected our defense,” associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “We missed a lot of easy layups, and that in turn affected our defense. (Coach Pat Summitt) had a pretty stern talk with them at halftime and basically said they need to get their act together or they’re walking home, in those condensed words.

“The second half we played hard on defense, got easy layups off of our turnovers, and that’s what we need,” she said. “We need to score off of our defense.”

The Lady Vols closed the game on a 19-6 run to turn a tight contest into a blowout and win for the 27th time in the last 30 meetings with the Tigers (8-6, 0-1).

Shekinna Stricklen added 17 points for Tennessee but was disgusted with her 5-of-18 shooting performance.

“I was so frustrated,” Stricklen said. “It was like I was so wide-open, but they kept hitting the front of the rim. It was something I adjusted to in the second half. I feel like I should have attacked the ball a lot more.”

Glory Johnson had 14 points and 13 rebounds and Alicia Manning scored 10 points.

Simmons had 13 in the second half.

Camille Glymph led Auburn with 21 points, making 5 of 10 from 3-point range.

“Once I hit the first one I just tried to keep shooting,” Glymph said. “They kept falling for me.”

The Lady Vols struggled from the field, shooting just 32 percent (21 of 65) after coming in as the SEC’s second-best shooting team. However, they gave Auburn troubles on the boards and with a trapping defense that often forced the Tigers into hurried shots with the shot clock ticking down.

“That gave us fits the entire second half,” Auburn coach Nell Fortner said. “I thought their pressure was very good. It slowed us down. By the time we got it broken and tried to run something, there’s 14 seconds left on the shot clock.

“Now, you’re really out of whack,” Fortner said.

Tennessee also dominated in rebounding 49-31. The Lady Vols turned a 31-29 halftime lead into a 14-point cushion midway through the second half.

Johnson also boiled down the essence of Summitt’s halftime message.

“Basically, if we don’t get it together, we’re walking home,” she said. “And it’s a long walk. I figured this isn’t the way Tennessee plays. We know how to play and we’re not playing to our standards. When we’re not rebounding and settling for good shots instead of great shots, that’s what happens.”

Auburn managed to cut the 14-point deficit in half with Glymph hitting back-to-back 3s to make it 53-46 with 8 minutes to play.

Then, Tennessee hit 7 of 8 free throws over the next 3 minutes to spark a 9-0 run and all but put the game away.

The Lady Vols went 28 of 31 from the line to help overcome the poor shooting night.

They were coming off a 90-37 win over Old Dominion to rebound from a 17-point loss to No. 4 Stanford. It’s the first time Tennessee has entered January with three losses since the 2004-05 season.

Auburn was playing its third game in four days after going 1-1 at the Sun and Fun Classic in Miami. The Tigers have lost all three games against ranked teams and are 2-6 in SEC openers under coach Nell Fornter.

“They went into halftime feeling good about themselves and we were not really happy,” Warlick said.

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