Even as Tennessee was leaving Auburn in its dust, it didn't distance itself far enough from Thursday's loss to South Carolina.
Talent prevailed Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Lady Vols were superior to Auburn at every position, and that ultimately carried the day.
Their energy and effort also suggested they were more vested in the outcome than in the puzzling home-court loss to the Gamecocks. They pushed the pace, extended their defense and forced 23 turnovers in the 82-61 victory.
While the performance was an upgrade over Thursday night, don't get the idea that the Lady Vols have suddenly transformed themselves into a Final Four-caliber team. They missed too many layups and gave up too many for that.
Those familiar glitches
were glaring right away. Shekinna Stricklen opened the game with a missed layup; Auburn had two layups in jumping out to a 9-4 lead that triggered a quick UT timeout.
The response to the wayward start was a clear sign that the coaches' tolerance for UT's lapses has declined. Other coaching moves throughout the game reflected that as well.
When guard Meighan Simmons misfired badly on a hastily conceived first-half jump shot, coach Pat Summitt stood up immediately and summoned Kamiko Williams to take Simmons' place.
"She still has a voice when she needs to make a point," associate head coach Holly Warlick said of Summitt, whose role with this team has been limited by her battle with early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. "She may pick and choose when she does it, but when she does, it's powerful."
Warlick reacted similarly in the second half when Simmons lost Auburn's best shooter, Camille Glymph, for an open 3-pointer. Again, in came Williams; out went Simmons.
"It gets a little old when we give everybody their best game offensively," Warlick said. "We wanted to make sure 22 (Glymph) didn't go off. Meighan's defensive game has elevated. But it's got to get better."
How telling that a team as experienced as this one has to be reminded and prodded to pick it up defensively.
Still, the breakdowns recur, sometimes in bunches. On one second-half Auburn possession, two Tigers missed shots beneath the basket, only to have the ball batted back out to the perimeter. Point guard Morgan Jennings promptly altered the theme by driving to the basket and actually making a layup.
It's too late in the season — and in some cases, too late in careers — to expect a dramatic change for the better in UT's defense. In a best-case scenario, perhaps it can overcome such shortcomings with more offense of its own.
Although Simmons' defense remains iffy, she had her best shooting game of the season against Auburn, making six of nine field-goal attempts, mostly on blazing drives to the basket that found the defense lagging.
Taber Spani, who is progressing from a knee injury that cost her nine games, further bolstered the offense. She made one of her three 3-point tries and scored nine points in 21 minutes.
"She brings a different element to the floor," Auburn coach Nell Fortner said. "You have to respect her the whole time. That makes Tennessee better."
So does UT's senior leader, Glory Johnson, who criticized her team's lack of effort against South Carolina and led by her production against Auburn: 14 points, 11 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists, and 6-for-7 shooting from the field.
"She's one of the best post players in the country," Fortner said. "She's just so physical. You always know she's guarding you."
The rest of UT's defense is too often a mystery.