Jan. 28, 2010
KNOXVILLE -- A huge grin spread across Shekinna Stricklen's face as soon as her third 3-point basket of the night swished cleanly though the net.
Fifth-ranked Tennessee already had enough points to beat Auburn, but the shot meant something else. The Lady Volunteer guards were back from a long slump.
"Aw, man it felt so good," Stricklen said after Tennessee beat Auburn 85-56 Thursday night. "When we hit shots, we were all just smiling. We felt like the guards haven't had a good game like this in a long time."
Angie Bjorklund led the way with 20 points for Tennessee and Stricklen finished with 17. The Lady Vols' posts contributed to the offensive outpouring, too, with Glory Johnson scoring 15 and grabbing 13 rebounds, and Alyssia Brewer adding 11 points.
Tennessee (18-2, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) entered the game averaging 75 points overall but only 64.8 points in league play.
Bjorklund entered the game leading the team with 14.8 points per contest, but her production was down to an average 8.8 points in the past four games. Stricklen's had dropped to 7.3 per game from her season average of 12.7 in the past three games.
Coach Pat Summitt said it's still a learning process with the young team, her first without a single senior.
"Our perimeter game is getting better," Summitt said. "If you look at the stats, they see that they need to get in the gym. Otherwise, don't expect minutes. Everyone has to be invested. I think they got the message."
A 3-pointer by the Bjorklund capped a 14-2 run that gave Tennessee a 22-14 lead with 11:05 in the first half, and the Lady Vols did not trail again. Bjorklund hit 6 of 12 from behind the arc.
Even Johnson, known more for driving the paint and working the backboards, contributed from outside, getting her first career 3-pointer on a desperation shot with 2 seconds left on the shot clock. She scrambled for a loose ball and shoveled it into the air while falling backward.
"It was lucky. No skill involved," Summitt said, rolling her eyes.
The Tigers (11-10, 2-6) are even younger than the Lady Vols, returning just one starter from the team that last season got an unprecedented back-to-back wins over Tennessee.
The lone returning player, Alli Smalley, was the only Tigers player that didn't appear to struggle, and she led the team with 21 points.
"We know we are young," Smalley said. "We know that each night in the SEC is going to be a tough game because every team in the SEC is good. It was certainly tough to get off shots against the Tennessee defense, especially with them switching out on everything."
Despite being bested by Tennessee in nearly every statistical category, Auburn still got off to the better start. The Tigers hit the first five points of the game and grabbed a 12-8 lead before the Lady Vols launched their scoring run.
Auburn's main threat in the paint, KeKe Carrier, helped disrupt the Lady Vols early despite being hampered by a hamstring injury suffered a week ago. Carrier didn't last long, quickly committing two fouls and spending much of the first half on the bench.
"You just keep working hard," Auburn coach Nell Fortner said. "They have to not lose their belief in what we're doing and just continue to compete. I thought our effort was good tonight. I thought we worked hard tonight. We just didn't have enough."