More defense and less drama meant one thing above all to Tennessee Sunday afternoon: progress.
The Lady Vols brought down the curtain on their women’s basketball series with Louisiana Tech in hammer-like fashion, winning 94-59 before a crowd of 12,801 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The victory was Tennessee’s ninth in a row against Tech. The margin of victory was the largest in a rivalry that stretches back across 40 previous meetings to 1978.
For the Lady Vols, the finale was all about moving ahead.
“We took a step forward,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said. “Hopefully we’ll be better because of it.”
Tennessee’s performance, built on the solid foundation of a 54-26 onslaught after halftime, was a far cry from Friday night’s shaky 3-point decision at Chattanooga. The result, along with the methods behind it, was an improvement over last Monday’s one-point setback against Virginia at the arena.
“We came out here today knowing what we can do,’’ Tennessee’s Alyssia Brewer said. “For some reason we’ve been hiding that. But it came out today and showed what we can possibly do.”
Nobody showed more than Brewer. The freshman forward scored 16 points and gathered 12 rebounds in 20 playing minutes. Classmate Amber Gray had comparable productivity — 16 points and seven rebounds — in the same amount of playing time.
Tennessee (3-1) had two other double-figure scorers with Vicki Baugh (13) and Glory Johnson (12) joining the group. The Lady Vols built huge advantages in points from the foul-lane area (54-26), points off turnovers (34-12) and second-chance points (33-11).
After shooting a miserable 53.5 percent on free throws (23 for 43) against Chattanooga, UT improved to 70.3 percent (26 for 37).
Guard Whitney Jones scored a game-high 23 points for Louisiana Tech (1-2) but no other Lady Techster scored more than nine. Tech made just nine second-half field goals and committed 28 turnovers.
Summitt made her point by stressing prevention beforehand. On Saturday, the team spent the majority of its practice session watching video of every defensive possession from Friday night’s 66-63 victory.
For good measure, Baugh set the proper tone on Sunday’s first possession by blocking a shot. In her second game back from reconstructive knee surgery, she added seven points and five rebounds before the first timeout.
The 6-foot-4 sophomore forward picked up right where she left off in recording a block, a clutch free throw and an offensive rebound during the final minute against Chattanooga.
“It’s definitely just helping me to find my role on the team,’’ said Baugh, who finished with 12 rebounds and four blocks in 17 minutes. “Also it helps my teammates to know how to play with me. We just have to build that chemistry together.”
The Lady Vols were a bit slow in following Baugh’s lead.
They lurched across the first half, leading by as many as 15 points but only 40-33 at the break. One Baugh basket to begin the second half, however, was all the added encouragement her teammates needed.
As defenders, Summitt said the Lady Vols were more aggressive and supported each other better.
“We tend to at times, not so much today, to be really glued to our player,’’ she said. “We’re either a player magnet or a ball magnet. But I think going through what we went through in our practice (Saturday) was really, really beneficial.”
As for the scoring, Brewer and Gray did most of their damage during the final 20 minutes, combining for 22 points. They also grabbed 14 of their 19 rebounds.
“I think both of them can help us,’’ Summitt said. “Lyssi, her size around the basket is very effective for us.
“Amber, if I had to say of all the freshmen, she may be the most skilled player. She’s not the most athletic, but she has a great skill set.”
In the face of Tennessee’s surge, Louisiana Tech ran out of players. Starters Adrienne Johnson, Shanavia Dowdell and Tiawana Pringle all fouled out during a two-minute span inside the final 10 minutes as Tennessee was padding its advantage.
“They played hard,’’ Tech coach Chris Long said of his players. “Maybe they played too hard.”
Tennessee’s press also took a toll, or rather Tech’s response to the defensive alignment.
“We haven’t been hurt with a press in three or four years,’’ Long said. “I didn’t expect it to hurt us tonight. Our turnovers against the press were often unforced. That was disappointing.”