Jan. 23, 2011
Tennessee (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) overwhelmed Auburn with tall bodies, and lots of them.
"I think it was clear we had the size advantage," said the 6-foot-3 Johnson, who helped Tennessee to a 49-34 rebounding edge. "And whenever we use it to the best of our ability, we dominate. Just having everyone fresh, scoring and getting rebounds, it was amazing."
The impact was certainly evident late in the game. The Lady Vols (19-2, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) used a late 19-4 spurt to pull away, even with leading scorer Meighan Simmons held to five points.
Stricklen helped overcome the freshman's subpar outing with her second straight big game. She made 8 of 14 shots after getting 18 points and 16 rebounds Thursday night at South Carolina.
Johnson and Kelley Cain powered a dominant performance around the basket against the Tigers (12-8, 5-2). The 6-foot-6 Cain had nine points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and three steals against a team that had only one contributor -- 6-foot-3 Blanche Alverson -- above 6-2.
"Any time you go on the road, if you don't pack your defense and board play you can lose at any given time," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "And I think our team has finally bought into that. We had a lot of good things from a number of different players. I think our depth has really contributed to the success we've had. And also this team is very unselfish and also very, very committed to our defense and our boards."
Vicki Baugh added nine points in just seven minutes to help Tennessee's bench outscore Auburn's reserves 26-6.
Auburn had no answers for the versatile Stricklen, who had six rebounds and hit two 3-pointers.
"Not a lot of people can stop her," Johnson said. "Just having her confidence, and whenever she's finishing, she's unstoppable. Whenever she has confidence, that also brings energy to the rest of the team."
Alli Smalley and Morgan Toles led Auburn with 13 points. Jordan Greenleaf added 10 points and nine rebounds.
Tennessee shot 43 percent (28 for 65) while holding Auburn to 34 percent (23 for 67), mostly forcing the Tigers to rely on jump shots.
The Lady Vols scored 18 fast-break points, repeatedly dumping the ball inside or scoring on drives.
"I think they're playing a style of basketball that's really tough to guard, wears you out and then they keep bringing players off the bench that keep putting pressure on you," Auburn coach Nell Fortner said. "I thought our transition defense was not good today, led to about 18 points for them. And our boxing out -- 18 offensive boards are not going to win you a lot of games if that's what you're giving up. We've got a lot of work to do to stay in a ballgame with them, that's for sure."
Simmons, who came in averaging 16.2 points, made just 1 of 8 shots and didn't score until hitting two free throws with 4:39 left in the game. She did have a nice behind-the-back assist in the first half.
The Tigers cut a 19-point deficit to 52-42 at the midpoint with a reverse layup by Toles, but Tennessee scored the next 10 points and limited Auburn to one field goal over the next 6 minutes. Johnson's layup pushed the lead to 25 points.
"When you play against them, you've got to make them pay for the breakdowns and defensive mistakes," Fortner said. "The run was nice, but when we cut it to 10, we didn't show a lot of poise at that point to say, 'Now it's a ball game."
Smalley hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that finally gave the Auburn fans something to cheer about. But it was the only 3 the Tigers made in 10 attempts other than Alverson's 3-for-9, nine-point performance.
The Lady Vols had closed the first half on a 12-2 run to take a 34-19 lead even though both Angie Bjorklund and Simmons failed to score. Bjorklund finished with seven points, 4.5 below her season average.
Taber Spani had a steal and fast-break pass to Johnson for a layup for the final points with 1:18 left.
The Tigers missed 10 of their last 11 shots going into the half, and never got the margin back into single digits.