A full complement of women's basketball players made a big difference for Tennessee on Sunday afternoon.
Center Kelley Cain's towering presence alone was a game-changer. Add Angie Bjorklund's first appearance along with some other individual efforts and DePaul was outnumbered.
Every Lady Vol had a hand in an 88-67 victory over the Blue Demons before a crowd of 13,190 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Glory Johnson led No. 9 Tennessee (5-1) with 19 points. Shekinna Stricklen scored 16 and Cain added 12.
Sam Quigley led three double-figure scorers with 15 for DePaul (5-2).
"This is still Tennessee,'' said Blue Demons coach Doug Bruno, who already was making NCAA tournament projections. "I told the team afterwards that I would be shocked if they were not at least a two seed. The games have to be played so we'll see what happens. But given the level of coaching they are going to receive from Coach (Pat) Summitt and her staff, I would expect them to be a one or two seed."
This finally was Tennessee after the trainer's room emptied. Cain and teammate Alicia Manning returned from concussions while Bjorklund was back after being sidelined with a bulging disc in her lower back.
"It's good that our team is finally healthy,'' Johnson said.
With a dozen players at her disposal, Summitt was in a Christmas-like mood with the playing minutes. Everyone received at least 10.
The generosity had its benefits. Every Lady Vol contributed at least one rebound to a decisive 56-37 advantage. Five players had six or more rebounds led by Vicki Baugh's nine. Bjorklund had seven, one short of her career high.
The disparity was achieved against a DePaul team that's averaging nearly 6-foot-3 across its front line and had a plus-11.6 rebounding margin.
"First of all, you can talk about rebounding and then you can get schooled in what it means to rebound the basketball,'' Bruno said. "The problem was that it took us until the first media timeout to get our first defensive rebound."
On the flip side, the Lady Vols had trouble sustaining their effort in the first half. DePaul whittled an 18-point deficit to six before UT recovered for a 44-34 lead at the break.
"With the exception of not closing out the first half, I was pleased, and I blame myself for that because we were playing a lot of people,'' Summitt said.
Tennessee was at its best in building a 68-43 lead in the first 10-plus minutes of the second half. Cain, the 6-6 redshirt freshman, scored five of her points during this stretch and played 11 of her 14 minutes after halftime in her first game since Nov. 17 versus Virginia.
"I know I'm not in as good of shape as I need to be and Coach wants me to be,'' Cain said. "It just have to take the time that she gave me out there and give it my all."
Other than her 2-for-7 free-throw shooting, Cain's skills appeared to be in fine form.
"She keeps the ball up and uses the glass; a lot of posts now don't do that,'' Summitt said. "There's a big difference between her and Vicki and Glory. They use their athleticism and quickness. She uses her size."
Stricklen put her 6-2 wingspan to good use in guarding DePaul's Deirdre Naughton. The Blue Demons guard scored 14 points, nearly five below her team-leading 19.8 average, and shot 3-for-18 from the floor.
"She's a long athletic player, which is something that we haven't really experienced this season,'' Naughton said. "She definitely altered a lot of my shots."
Even the smallest Lady Vols played big. Briana Bass, a 5-2 freshman, recorded eight assists, four of which came during the decisive scoring run to start the second half.
"She pushes me,'' Johnson said of Bass. "It's great to have someone who is so little who can push you so much."