Tennessee should've billed its final exhibition game as "Meet the Freshmen Night.''
Nobody in the announced crowd of 12,457 would've departed Thompson-Boling Arena feeling deprived, particularly the freshmen.
The Lady Vols' four first-year players got a good workout in a 91-30 women's basketball victory over Carson-Newman College Tuesday night. Three of them scored in double figures, led by Angie Bjorklund's game-high 26 points.
Freshman forward Vicki Baugh might've had an inkling what was in store for her without realizing it. She thought to herself beforehand, "I don't know why I have butterflies for this game and I didn't for the USA (exhibition).''
UT coach Pat Summitt previewed the final warmup before Sunday's season opener against Chattanooga as showtime for the rookies. The coach cleared the court as much as possible for them. Other than Bjorklund's 35 minutes, no starter played more than 19 minutes.
All-American Candace Parker, who is two weeks removed from a shoulder injury, logged eight first-half minutes before pulling on her warm-up for good.
"She's just tender,'' said Summitt, referring to the status of Parker's shoulder. "Why push it when you don't have to? We need to rest her and make sure we're smart in how we handle this injury."
On the other hand, there was no rest for the freshman. While Baugh, Kelley Cain and Sydney Smallbone weren't as busy as Bjorklund, they each played 25 minutes and probably were asleep last night before their heads hit the pillow.
"I thought we were going to have to get out the oxygen at halftime for some of them,'' Summitt said jokingly. "But they kept pushing through."
It showed on the stat sheet, beginning with Bjorklund, who swished six of UT's 11 3-pointers. In two exhibition games, Bjorklund has connected on 9 of 14 attempts from behind the arc.
"Our 3-point shooting was good,'' said reserve forward Alex Fuller, who nailed three treys and scored 17 points. "But we have a size advantage over most other teams. We have to focus on getting the ball inside."
That's where Baugh and Cain were operating. They recorded double-doubles against the smaller Lady Eagles, scoring 11 points apiece. The 6-foot-6 Cain gathered a game-high 12 rebounds.
They put in some useful minutes working on their hi-low connection. Baugh, who had six assists, flashed some nifty passing. On one possession, she raced the basketball up the court, before pulling up at the top of the key and delivering a nice pass to a cutting Fuller for a basket.
"The things the freshmen need to work on for the bigger games, we had to work on here,'' Baugh said.
All four freshmen spent considerable time together on the court with either Alexis Hornbuckle, Shannon Bobbitt or Fuller serving as the lone veteran chaperone.
"Being able to go at it together helped us a lot,'' Bjorklund said. "If we get in the bigger games all four of us out there, we've done it before."
Carson-Newman coach Dean Walsh saw enough of Tennessee to pay the defending national champions a huge compliment.
"Throw in the size with what they have returning and they are, by far, a better team this year,'' he said. "If this bunch keeps improving it is scary what they will be able to do."
Walsh said there was a "20-to-30-point difference right now" between Tennessee and SEC opponent Auburn, which beat C-N 94-52 on Sunday.
Walsh wished that he could've said more about his team's effort. The NCAA Division II Lady Eagles were led by TyKira McDaniel's 10 points. Forward Shari Buford reflected their struggles. She made two points for UT after inexplicably taking two shots at the wrong basket in the second half.
"She knows in no uncertain terms that wasn't a good thing,'' Walsh said, "and it wasn't very funny."