KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Auburn coach Nell Fortner could see just enough mistakes in eighth-ranked Tennessee’s game to know that the Tigers had a chance. They just couldn’t do enough against the Lady Volunteers’ size and pressure to get the win.
The Tigers’ 23 turnovers led to 21 points for the Lady Vols, who got the 82-61 win on Sunday.
“I thought we had good looks at the basket,” Fortner said. “I don’t know how many layups we missed, but there were way too many. Tennessee has always been known as a good defensive team. We tended to find some gaps and seams in things they were doing but still had a difficult time finishing the shot. That comes from their size.”
Tennessee had shown plenty of defensive lapses in a rare SEC loss at home to South Carolina on Thursday night. The Lady Vols saw a late seven-point lead slip away in that game as they struggled to cover the Gamecocks’ guards and committed costly turnovers.
Frustrated with the passive effort, the Tennessee coaches went back to the pressure scheme that’s worked so well for the Lady Volunteers in the past.
It appeared to be more of the same early against the Tigers, who hit six of their first nine shots and jumped out to a 9-4 lead quickly.
The Lady Vols (17-6, 8-2) buckled down, coming up with steals and making shots more difficult. By the end of the game, Auburn had 23 turnovers that resulted in 21 points compared to 11 turnovers by Tennessee.
“Mainly it’s us mentally,” Auburn guard Morgan Jennings said. “We just have to slow things down and make good decisions.”
The miscues gave the Lady Vols more of a chance in transition, where the Tigers struggled to guard them. Tennessee finished with 16 points on the break compared to just four by Auburn (11-13, 3-8).
The Lady Vols also dominated the paint, outscoring the Tigers 52-28 there.
“Actually, after the game the kids said, `That was actually fun,”’ associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “When they think it’s fun, we’re going to do it more often, but they’ve got to buy into it. We got success, and when you have success with something you do, it seems to give you more energy.”
Glory Johnson, who had spent much of the South Carolina loss in foul trouble, led the way inside with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Ariel Massengale also scored 14 points, Meighan Simmons added 13 points and Shekinna Stricklen had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Simmons sank a 3 to knot the game at 14 points with 14:22 in the first half. The basket launched a 7-0 run that put Tennessee ahead for good, and the Lady Vols led 44-31 at halftime.
Tennessee outshot Auburn 50 percent to 37 percent after halftime. Stricklen stole the ball from Blanche Alverson, and Massengale got a layup on the break to make it 56-39 with 13:24 to play.
The Tigers fought back, finding a few paths to the rim as the Lady Vols eased up on their defense late in the game. A short jumper by Hasina Muhammad with 6:54 to play cut Tennessee’s lead to 61-53, but it was as close as Auburn would get.
“We play good for about 34 minutes and then kind of break down,” Fortner said. “It was an eight-point game with 6:51 left, and I think we only had eight turnovers in the half at that time, and it just kind of fell apart on us.”
Simmons answered with a layup. Massengale stole the ball from Muhammad on the next possession, and Johnson rebounded a missed shot by Stricklen and hit a layup to help Tennessee pull away again.
Camille Glymph scored 13 points to lead Auburn, which outrebounded Tennessee 42-39. Tyrese Tanner scored 11 before fouling out with 4:52 to play, and Muhammad finished with 10.
Turnovers cost the Tigers in the first meeting of the teams this season, a 73-52 victory by the Lady Vols at Auburn on Jan. 1. The Lady Vols forced 25 turnovers in that game with their pressure.
“We like that style,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot of hard work. You can see when everyone gets tired, but we talk to each other. We know that it shakes the other team, especially with our presence on the full court. It makes them change their offense, and we like that.”