Tennessee made an investment in its women's basketball future Monday night.
The Lady Vols starters provided enough cushion against Louisiana Tech to afford the reserves a busy night.
Busy didn't always equate to productive or efficient. No matter, it all added up to an 81-60 victory before an announced crowd of 14,891 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The reserves all played at least 18 minutes, gaining experience and a greater appreciation for their importance to UT's success.
"Just from winning the championship last year, we know that we wouldn't have won without our bench,'' Tennessee center Nicky Anosike said. "The same is true this year. If our bench doesn't come to play we won't win. They're just as important as the starters. It's our job to let them know that. I think they know that."
Judging by Monday's performance, the starters have their roles down pat. They collaborated on 60 percent field-goal shooting during the first 15 minutes, enabling top-ranked Tennessee (5-0) to open a 48-20 lead.
The shooting start featured 9-for-10 accuracy on 3-pointers.
"If they're going to shoot 9-for-10 from 3(-point range), they'll beat anybody in the country,'' Louisiana Tech coach Chris Long said.
Closer to the basket, Anosike was working on 6-for-6 accuracy and a team-high 13 points in just 15 minutes.
"I guess I was lucky,'' Anosike said. "I don't know what I ate before the game, but I need to start eating it more often. I guess it was a good night for me. Everything fell."
Fellow starter Candace Parker also made the most of her short night, matching Anosike's 13 points in 16 minutes. Starter Shannon Bobbitt also scored 13.
The reserves held their own in the first half, pushing UT's advantage to as much as 33 points before the break.
The dropoff occurred in the second half, when the back-ups helped drag Tennessee's final field-goal percentage down to relatively chilly 40.5 percent. As caretakers of the Lady Vols' lead, they pushed it 76-42 with 7:47 left, only to be victimized by an 18-5 Tech scoring run to the final buzzer.
Louisiana Tech (2-2), overmatched for much of the game, left with the satisfaction of having won the second half. Guard Whitney Jones scored 14 of her team-high 16 points in the second half. Forward JoKierra Sneed had 15 and a game-high 18 rebounds.
The collective 10-for-40 field-goal accuracy by the reserves stood out the most to UT coach Pat Summitt.
"They have to understand their role of efficiency and being able to maybe do a better job of moving the basketball,'' she said. "And obviously being able to knock down shots."
Summitt jokingly wondered whether freshman Vicki Baugh's 3-for-12 accuracy contributed to her team-high 16 rebounds in 25 minutes.
"I asked her how many of those were her own shots,'' Summitt said. "We'll have to count them on the tape."
Baugh's minutes provided an extended view of her potential. The 6-foot-4 forward has great athleticism, as evidenced by not only her rebounds but her four blocks. Her basketball savvy was reflected by four assists. Those same skills, however, aren't yet translating into scoring.
"The energy level she plays at, sometimes she's not always as efficient on the offensive end,'' Summitt said. "Once she settles down and doesn't rush shots, she's going to be much more efficient for us."
It's not so much the shot selection but rather the execution of the shot attempt.
"Sometimes, because she's sprinting and running hard and being aggressive,'' Summitt said, "that she doesn't relax when she gets into her shooting technique."
For all the work put in Monday, Baugh realizes that she and the rest of the reserves still have work to do in holding up their end of the responsibilities.
"She's been talking about the bench stepping up,'' said Baugh, referring to Summitt. "I had to go in their and do my minutes. That way, for the bigger games, she can rely on us.''