It was all on display Sunday in No. 5 Tennessee’s 73-53 win against Auburn, leaving Tigers coach Nell Fortner with little to add afterward.
“I think Tennessee’s really good,” she said with a chuckle, knowing she was stating the obvious. “I think they’re definitely one of the top five teams in the country.”
Shekinna Stricklen matched season-high with 18 points and Glory Johnson came off the bench to finish with 16 points and 13 rebounds for the Lady Vols (19-2, 7-0 SEC), who have won 10 straight and sit in their usual spot this time of year — alone atop the SEC standings.
“I thought our team came ready to play,” Summitt said. “You never know when you are on the road and in this environment.”
It was a reality check for Auburn (12-8, 5-2 SEC), which was on a roll after struggling through a tough non-conference slate. Only one of the Tigers’ five SEC wins (LSU) have come against a team with a winning conference record.
The game took place almost two years to the day after an overflow crowd of 12,067 packed Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum to watch DeWanna Bonner and Auburn’s veteran squad end a 16-game losing streak to Tennessee with an 82-68 victory on its way to an SEC championship.
In front of a crowd of 7,356 at the new Auburn Arena, the Lady Vols showed Sunday that order has been restored to the league.
They overwhelmed the Tigers with their size, rotating in a seemingly endless parade of players 6-foot-3 or taller against Auburn’s undersized frontcourt.
“Whenever we use (our size) to the best of our ability we normally dominate,” Johnson said.
Tennessee worked the ball inside whenever it wanted, finishing with 38 points in the paint to Auburn’s 20.
The Lady Vols also grabbed 49 rebounds, 18 coming at the offensive end. Six-foot-six center Kelley Cain had 12 rebounds, five on the offensive end.
“We’re not used to playing teams with that kind of size,” said Tigers guard Alli Smalley, who scored 13 points.
It worked to the Lady Vols’ advantage on defense too. Tennessee’s long, rangy athletes played an aggressive trap defense once Auburn moved the ball past halfcourt, hounding the Tigers into 20 turnovers.
“It wears you out,” Fortner said. “And then they keep bringing players up off the bench, that continue to put the pressure on you.”
Tennessee clamped down defensively at the end of the first half, holding Auburn to two points in the final 8:37 as it took a 34-19 lead into the locker room.
Auburn got as close as 10 at 52-42 with 9:56 left in the game on a layup by Morgan Toles, who finished with 13 points and 7 assists.
The Lady Vols answered with a 10-0 run, forcing turnovers on four straight possessions to put the game out of reach.
“Anytime you go on the road, if you don’t pack your defense and your board play, you can lose at any time,” Summitt said. “I think our team has finally bought into that.”