AUBURN, Ala. — Glory Johnson spoke for her Tennessee teammates Sunday about what suffices for a good walk.
“The only walking we want to do,’’ the senior forward said, “is from class to class.”
“If we don’t get it together, then we’re walking home,’’ said Johnson, recalling the gist of Summitt’s threat. “That’s a long walk.”
The Lady Vols saved their legs by salvaging the outcome, converting a shaky two-point halftime lead into a 73-52 victory before a crowd of 4,269 at Auburn Arena.
Meighan Simmons led four double-figure scorers with 20 points for No. 7 Tennessee (9-3, 1-0 SEC), which won its 34th consecutive game in conference play. Shekinna Stricklen scored 17 points and Glory Johnson had 14 and a game-high 13 rebounds. Alicia Manning added 10 points.
Camille Glymph scored a game-high 21 points for Auburn (8-6, 0-1), hitting five of the Tigers’ seven 3-pointers. The Tigers, who trailed 31-29 at halftime, still were lurking within seven points, 53-46, with 7:59 left. But they finished with more turnovers (25) than baskets (19).
The Lady Vols played the part of defending conference champions primarily on the boards and at the free-throw line.
“They’re big,’’ Stricklen said. “That’s what really won the game for us.”
The Lady Vols pulled down 26 offensive rebounds and converted them into 30 second-chance points.
“They are very hard to box out,’’ Auburn coach Nell Fortner said. “They are a tremendous offensive rebounding team and we paid the price tonight.”
The Lady Vols shot a season-best 90.3 percent on free throws, converting 28 of 31 attempts. The performance was a vast improvement over their 70.4 percent season accuracy.
“It’s just showing we were mentally focused,’’ Stricklen said.
The Lady Vols’ other attempts weren’t as accurate. Their 32.3 percent shooting from the field (21 for 65) was their second-worst of the season, as was their 18.8 percent on 3-pointers (3 for 16).
They were struggling against the same sort of sticky zone defense that Virginia had used in pulling off its 69-64 upset of UT on Nov. 20. The similarity was no coincidence. The Tigers had watched the video of that game.
“I thought it was a great defense,’’ Fortner said. “That’s one of our defenses, so it’s not hard to do that.”
Tennessee’s defense, on the other hand, wasn’t always as effective in stopping penetration, which set up Auburn’s shooters.
“We should have been forcing them left a lot more than we were,’’ Johnson said. “If I’m a player and they’re not stopping me from going right, then I’m going to keep going right. They definitely used their strength to their advantage, and that’s something we should have cut off. We cut it off a little bit more in the second half, but it’s something we should have been doing the whole game.”
They did it enough to leave with a victory, and not go home on foot.
Down Goes Warlick: Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick, who lost her footing this fall and suffered a fractured left pinkie, fell while walking off the court at halftime Sunday but wasn’t injured.
“Thank God I didn’t break something,’’ she said.
Dan Fleser may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser.