This year, it might not even be close in the SEC.
Tennessee has one of their most inconsistent nights on offense this year, with Meighan Simmons and Angie Bjorklund both failing to score any points in the entire first half, and Simmons scoring only when the game was already out of hand. No matter: Stricklen scored on multiple fast breaks and Cain supplied several paint points (despite missing an astonishing number of easy looks from up close) to give the Lady Vols the points they needed. Meanwhile, back at the farm, Tennessee just demolished Auburn on defense, forcing 19 turnovers and 35% shooting to keep the Lady Tigers from posing any real threat.
The cold streaks of Tennessee didn't matter; despite a 6-minute field goal-less spell in the first and multiple cold spells in the second, Auburn had it worse, scoring only twice in the final ten minutes of the first half and giving away multiple double-digit streaks to Tennessee after halftime. It was the kind of defensive effort that everybody knew the Lady Vols were capable of producing, but that we had waited all year to see.
But perhaps the most exciting news was that both Baugh and Brewer got to play several minutes in the game.
With about 15 minutes left in the second half, Vicki Baugh made her entrance and made her presence felt in a big way. She promptly scored as soon as she entered the game and posted 9 points, 2 rebounds (both offensive), and a block with only 1 turnover and 1 foul against her. The Baugh we remembered from yesteryear was back, moving through the interior as if the defenders weren't even there. Any questions about her injury appeared to be dismissed, making her appear to be a viable option to spell Cain in upcoming games.
If Baugh's appearance weren't enough, Brewer also logged several minutes to close out the contest. She wasn't able to score (and is still waiting to get points this season), but having both her and Baugh return will give a lot of relief to Johnson and especially Cain in the interior.
Despite the sputtering on offense, there were times when points just came in bunches. The 12-point tear in the first three minutes of the second half put the game out of reach, even when Auburn scored 9 in a row later on. Perhaps the most important story on offense was the lack of Bjorklund and Simmons; with both three-bombers experiencing droughts, Tennessee simply went inside and buried Auburn among the trees. And that was despite Cain's odd tendency to miss easy lay-ins.
The offense may need some work, but shooters do have cold nights on occasion. Perhaps that was just a bizarre occurrence of two cold shooters on the perimeter, but now the Lady Vols (and the rest of the SEC) know that they don't need to rely on the three-ball to win going away. Tenacious defense, transition points, rebounding, and paint points were the keys to the game today.
Classic Lady Vols basketball.