BATON ROUGE, La. – Tennessee didn’t make a 3-pointer for the first time in 423 games.
Senior guard Angie Bjorklund didn’t score a point for the first time since the opening game of the 2009 SEC tournament.
And yet the Lady Vols didn’t stumble in, of all places, LSU.
They turned to other players and other means for a 73-65 women’s basketball victory over the Lady Tigers before a crowd of 4,478 at the Maravich Assembly Center.
Collectively, Cain and Johnson shot 17 for 26 from the floor.
Add Kamiko Williams’ 13 points and a 42-31 rebounding advantage and LSU coach Van Chancellor still was suffering from Lady Vol fatigue afterward.
“This might be the deepest team I’ve seen in college basketball in a long time,’’ he said.
LaSondra Barrett’s 15 points led three double-figure scorers for LSU (10-5), but the Lady Tigers couldn’t sustain an early surge and never led after the 7:14 mark of the first half.
The three usual leading scorers for No. 5 Tennessee (13-2) - Simmons, Bjorklund and Shekinna Stricklen - combined for 14 points, about 25 short of their usual output. No matter, the end result still added up in the Lady Vols’ favor.
“I think depth has been very, very good to us,’’ said UT Pat Summitt, who has expanded her intention to rotate primarily seven players. “We know we can keep bodies fresh and rotate them.”
In this case, the day began with getting Cain’s body limber enough to play. Summitt wasn’t sure about the 6-foot-6 redshirt junior’s status because of stiffness in her back and right hip.
“I wasn’t sure either,’’ said Cain, who played 29 minutes. “But coach said she needed me so I went out there and played the best I could.”
While Cain avoided early foul trouble, fellow starters Stricklen, Simmons and Bjorklund did not and were on the bench with two fouls apiece within the first eight minutes. At that point, UT was without three sure scorers on the road against the SEC’s top defensive team. Its depth was more of a necessity than a luxury.
Tennessee was fortunate that Johnson did the work of several players. She hit her first two shots and scored 13 of her points before the break, reviving a team shooting percentage that had dipped below 30 percent.
She also had nine of her rebounds before halftime, giving Tennessee the edge in that crucial statistic, and played a lead role in an aggressive defense that revved the game’s pace more to Tennessee’s liking.
After trailing early 17-10, Tennessee led by as many as 10 points before settling for a 35-29 halftime lead.
Johnson understated her impact by saying, “When anyone hits any shots back-to-back in a row like that, we all gain confidence.”
Cain, on the other hand, was more emphatic.
“Whenever (Johnson) plays at that level, she makes everyone 10 times better,’’ she said.
Tennessee led by as much as 49-35 with 14:16 left before LSU mounted its final charge. With freshman guard Jeanne Kenney shooting holes in UT’s zone defense and scoring all 11 of her points in the second half, the Lady Tigers drew within five points twice. The last time was 59-54 with 5:46 left.
The Lady Vols finished off the victory by finishing 19 for 23 (82.6 percent) at the free throw line. LSU, conversely, was 12 for 22 (54.5 percent).
Summitt did not lament Tennessee’s 0-for-7 shooting from 3-point territory, which ended a string of games with at least one trey that stretched back to Jan. 21, 1999 at Florida. She had her reason.
“It’s OK,’’ she said, “we leave here with a ‘W’ ”