Vicki Baugh already had filled a tall order Sunday afternoon, reaching double figures for points and rebounds.
Then Tennessee’s senior center found herself squared up with Texas guard Chassidy Fussell. A defensive switch with under seven minutes remaining left the 6-foot-4 Baugh responsible for handling the Longhorns’ leading scorer with the Lady Vols guarding an eight-point lead.
Mission impossible? Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick acknowledged a degree of improbability by saying, “You don’t think of Vicki Baugh being able to get out and play on the perimeter.’’
Baugh thought otherwise. She locked down the 5-foot-10 Fussell, which led to a shot-clock violation. It was the first of two Texas turnovers caused by Baugh on consecutive possessions. In between, teammate Shekinna Stricklen nailed an NBA-length 3-pointer. The sequence added up to the knockdown blow Tennessee needed for a 73-57 women’s basketball victory before a crowd of 13,465 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The pivotal plays by Stricklen and Baugh highlighted their overall production. Stricklen scored a team-high 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds for No. 8 Tennessee (4-2), which buttressed its shaky 36.8 percent field goal shooting (25 for 68) with 11-for-21 accuracy on 3-pointers. Stricklen hit five treys.
Baugh recorded her second double-double of the season and fifth of her career with 17 points and 11 rebounds. She shot 8 for 10 from the floor, reaching a career single-game high for field goals. She led Tennessee’s 49-38 rebounding advantage, which yielded 17 second-chance points.
Baugh and Stricklen were two of Tennessee’s five double-figure scorers. Glory Johnson had 11 points, as well as 10 rebounds. Meighan Simmons and Ariel Massengale each scored 10 points. Simmons shook off her 2-for-26 shooting slump for a half at least, hitting all three of her 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
Tennessee’s group plan eclipsed the singular effort of Ashleigh Fontenette for No. 21 Texas (5-2). The senior guard reached the 1,000-point career milestone with points to spare, scoring a game-high 22.
No Stricklen 3-pointer was bigger than the intercontinental missile that touched down with 6:13 left. The basket punctuated a wayward possession that was saved by Simmons leaping to snag a comet-like cross-court pass from Johnson. Simmons passed to Stricklen and her basket pushed Tennessee’s lead into double figures for good at 64-53.
“Further back,’’ said Baugh and Simmons of Stricklen’s sweet spot, “that’s her range.”
Texas coach Gail Goestenkors described the impact of Stricklen’s shot to be as far-reaching as its length.
“I think that took some wind out of our sails and I think that was a great energy play for them because they came out of that with so much more energy,” she said. “I think we were a little fatigued and that’s a bad combination.”
Along with her scoring, Stricklen drew the lead defensive assignment against Fussell, who was averaging nearly 18 points per game. Stricklen was primarily responsible for Fussell getting off to a 7-point start in the first half. She finished with 14 but was 1 for 6 on 3-pointers.
“It’s something I really want to improve and the last couple of games I have,’’ said Stricklen, referring to her part in MTSU’s Kortni Jones shooting 6 for 25 last Tuesday, “and the coaches are really happy about it.”
Warlick, for one, was pleased with Baugh’s turn at guarding Fussell. In the next breath after noting the improbability factor, Warlick added, “That’s what Vicki can do.”
Baugh said that she wasn’t caught off guard by the moment.
“It really helps in practice that a lot of times the posts are guarding guards,” she said. “So it paid off at the right time.”
Baugh, who played 35 minutes, followed up by stealing an entry pass on the Longhorns’ next possession. Another made-to-order play.
“If she plays the way she played (today),” Warlick said, “we will win a lot more ballgames.”
Dan Fleser may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser