ROSEMONT, Ill. — Tennessee struggled to make shots and hang on to the basketball Monday night.
Defense, on the other hand, was not a problem. Nor was fetching the ball.
The Lady Vols rode these traditional attributes to a 63-48 NCAA women’s tournament victory over DePaul before a crowd of 2,866 at Allstate Arena.
Shekinna Stricklen led No. 2 seed Tennessee (26-8) with 17 points. The senior forward hit a clutch driving shot and then fed teammate Vicki Baugh for layup after DePaul (23-11) had pulled with eight points with seven minutes remaining. She also hit two of the six consecutive free throws Tennessee converted down the stretch.
Glory Johnson, on the other hand, grabbed a career-high 21 rebounds, part of UT’s 51-31 advantage on the boards.
Baugh scored 17 points and Meighan Simmons added 13.
Anna Martin scored a game-high 20 points for the seventh-seeded Blue Demons before fouling out with 2:15 left.
With the second-round victory, Tennessee advanced to the Sweet 16 of the Des Moines (Iowa) Regional next Saturday and will play Delaware (31-1) or Kansas (20-12).
The Lady Vols held DePaul to 31.3 percent shooting from the floor. They stalked the Blue Demons’ shooters, limiting a team that averages nearly eight 3-pointers per game to 3-for-17 shooting from behind the arc.
“I think we did a good job,’’ UT assistant Dean Lockwood said. “We followed the game plan.”
The rebounding advantage, meanwhile, was built primarily in the second half and largely through the workmanlike effort of Johnson, who overcame her 2-for-9 shooting and five turnovers.
“I’m glad I don’t have to play against her,’’ teammate Alicia Manning said.
Johnson aptly described the blue-collar nature of the game by saying, “It’s going to be a long plane flight home.”
Associate head coach Holly Warlick referred to it as “a battle.”
Given DePaul’s depleted ranks, Tennessee pushed the pace right from the outset. The early returns were favorable in the form of the first three baskets.
But the Lady Vols literally gave up what early advantage they had in the form of turnovers. They had four within the first five minutes, setting the pace for the 20 that they committed.
“We had a lot of unforced errors,’’ Manning said. “We kind of shot ourselves in the foot. When you speed up the game, things like that can happen.”
The other unwanted by-product of UT’s preferred tempo was suspect shooting. The Lady Vols’ field goal percentage plunged below 40 percent almost from the start and finished at 37.3 percent (22 for 59).
Despite some impulsive attempts, Simmons did give the Lady Vols a scoring lift in the first half, hitting four shots and scoring 12 of her points.
DePaul had shooting woes of its own but hung within 28-23 at the break thanks largely to Martin, who had 13 first-half points. She sat for several minutes after picking up her second foul before returning to help keep the Blue Demons close.
UT build a double-figure lead and maintained it for long stretches of the second half not so much with offense but by limiting the Blue Demons to six points in the first 10 minutes of the half.
“It was an ugly game,” Lockwood said. “We just had to get through it.”
Dan Fleser may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser