"Obviously, I was very pleased with the way Vicki played today," Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt said. "She was really efficient, finished around the rim and rebounded very well. Both she and Glory had a great paint presence for us today.
"I was really pleased with the way Shekinna played today. Obviously, she shot the ball well. We gave her a tough defensive assignment, so she had her hands full on both ends of the floor."
For most of the game Stricklen, who has not been known for her defense until this season, was assigned to Texas sharpshooter Chassidy Fussell, a Tennessee native playing at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Fussell tallied 14 points but didn't see many open looks and went 1-6 from long range.
"I'm just letting the offense come to me, but my main focus has been defense," Stricklen said. "It's something that I really want to improve, and the last couple games I have. I've been guarding top players, and the coaches are really happy about it.
"Today was my best defensive game. I guarded (Fussell), and she's a great all-around player who can shoot. Holding her to 14 … seven in the first half, it was really good."
Stricklen led Tennessee with 20 points and was 5-9 from long range. She also had eight rebounds, three assists, three steals and just two turnovers in 37 minutes of play.
"Shekinna Stricklen was an All-America tonight," Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick said. "She's been an All-American on paper, but tonight she proved it. She played both ends of the floor, she guarded their best offensive player, she hit big shots.
"I'm just extremely proud of her effort and what Shekinna produced."
Stricklen and Baugh combined for one of the game's best defensive stands when Texas trailed by just eight points, 61-53, with 7:13 left in the game. Fussell wasn't finding breathing room on the perimeter so she tried a drive, only to spin around when Baugh cut off her path. That sent her back to Stricklen, who switched with Baugh, who poked the ball loose and forced a 30-second shot clock violation.
"You don't think of Vicki Baugh being able to get out and play on the perimeter, but that was a key play for us to force a 30-second call," Warlick said. "That's what Vicki can do."
On the Lady Vols' next possession, Stricklen buried a three-ball from NBA range – she was at least four feet behind the arc – to put Tennessee up 64-53, a double-digit lead the Lady Vols kept the rest of the way.
"I think when Shekinna hit that really late, big three that was so far out, 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," Texas Coach Gail Goestenkors said.
"I think we were a little fatigued, and that's a bad combination."
The long ball came on a pass from Meighan Simmons, who got the assist on a shot that Stricklen seems to hit with greater accuracy when she is farther out. Baugh and Simmons noted in the post-game press conference that Stricklen's range is deep. Stricklen wasn't always that accurate from so far out, and Summitt used to ask her to step in a tad.
"Pat doesn't say anything about them this year, I think because I do shoot them now in practice, and she knows I can shoot that deep," Stricklen said with a smile. "It went in so I don't think they're really going to say anything."
Simmons connected on her first three-point attempt – she used a screen, set her feet and hit nothing but net.
"It felt really good," Simmons said. "My confidence is getting back. I've been able to stay after practice recently and get shots in, and like I said, it's been building my confidence back up, and today, I think it showed."
All 10 of her points came in the first half and while she was 3-11 overall, the sophomore was 3-7 from long range.
"I like it when Meighan scores," Warlick said. "She's been struggling. She's had the opportunity to get shots in practice, and when she gets finals out of the way Meighan will get in the gym a little more.
"It's just confidence. Great shooters are going to keep shooting the ball. She got in, got some shots up and got a little confidence when she hit her first shots. Meighan's (shooting) is all about confidence."
Simmons logged 18 minutes, handled backup duties at point guard and had two steals, a block, an assist and no turnovers. Her block was a smack-down in the paint. Her improvement on defense has started in practice.
"We have some amazing guys (male practice players) who come in and practice," Simmons said. "I think what you do starting off in practice comes to perfection in the game.
"Even though I'm in a shooting slump, I'm able to make adjustments and help the team out in any other way, so defense has really been helping as well."
The game began with an oddity – two jump-balls at center court. Johnson got the tip just over Texas' Ashley Gayle, and it was loose before Baugh and Gayle tied it up. Since no team had possession yet, Baugh and Gayle jumped center. Baugh won the tip, but the ball was loose again, and Texas secured it.
Fussell scored quickly on an 18-footer, and Cokie Reed hit a layup to give Texas a 4-0 lead at the 18:43 mark of the first half.
Baugh got Tennessee on the board with a high post jumper and then a layup on a pass from Stricklen to tie the game at four that she converted after a head fake on the right side before finishing with her left hand on the left side.
Texas' Ashley Fontenette hit a three ball, and Stricklen answered on Tennessee's end for a 7-7 tie at the 16:38 mark on a play set up by Taber Spani's hustle as she scooped up a loose ball on the baseline and fired to Stricklen on the wing.
Texas' Anne Marie Hartung hit a layup to put Texas back in front, 10-9, but Ariel Massengale answered with a three off the dribble that brought applause from Baugh and gave Tennessee a 10-9 lead with 14:49 left in the first half. Texas kept the lead in single digits for most of the first half, but the Lady Vols never trailed again in the game.
The first half was highlighted by several plays by Massengale – she delivered a perfect bounce pass to Johnson for a transition layup, she found Stricklen in transition for a three, hit her second trey of the game on a pass from Baugh and grabbed a defensive board, drove to the basket, faked the wing pass and converted the layup.
Massengale's ability to penetrate was on display in the second half, too, as she got to the paint, drew the defense and hit the open player.
"If you have a great point guard, you open up the middle," Warlick said. "Glory, Vicki and Izzy (Isabelle Harrison) were getting good, single-covered looks.
"She's becoming a pretty consistent outside shooter and she can get to the basket. … She's brought a different dimension than we've had on our team in a very long time."
When Massengale was on the bench for a first-half breather – at one point she was in a sprinter's stance in her chair looking like she was ready to run back into the game – the frontline players ran the floor like guards.
Johnson rebounded a Texas missed free throw, dribbled out to the wing and passed ahead to Stricklen, who fired a pass to Baugh for the layup. On the next defensive possession, Stricklen stripped the ball from Texas in the paint, headed down court to Tennessee's end and found Johnson in stride with a no-look pass for another layup.
That gave the Lady Vols a 10-point lead, 37-27, with 2:08 left in the first half, and Goestenkors called timeout.
Texas trimmed the lead to six, 38-32, after Fussell hit a three-pointer, and Yvonne Anderson hit a layup in transition after a block. That led to Summitt jumping up to call timeout with 1:01 left before the break.
Simmons, who had misfired badly on a three on the previous possession, drained a trey from the same spot and the Lady Vols took a 41-32 lead into the locker room.
Baugh swiped a pass inside on the first possession of the second half, and Stricklen hit a three after an offensive board by Johnson, who got the ball to Massengale, who found Stricklen.
Spani connected on a three to give Tennessee its largest lead of the game at 12 points, 50-38, with 15:46 to go. Tennessee got the ball back on the possession because Hartung leveled Harrison under the basket while trying to get rebounding position.
Baugh continued her work inside with a drive in which she faked left and went right, and Cierra Burdick provided a highlight pass with a baseline drive and no-look flip to Baugh, who converted the layup for a 54-43 lead with 12:12 left.
But Texas came back with layups, including an and-one play from Fussell, and a trey from Chelsea Bass to cut the lead to six points, 59-53, with 8:48 to play.
"The game was close with eight minutes to go," Warlick said. "We gave up two transition layups, and probably the weakness of our game tonight was our transition D.
"We seemed to get in to a little lull where we went about three or four minutes and didn't score."
Johnson delivered a bucket with a nifty baseline drive for a 61-53 lead with 7:13 to play.
That was followed by Baugh's defensive stand on Fussell, and Stricklen's deep trey. Tennessee went on the attack on offense and got to the rim and when Stricklen used an Alicia Manning screen for a layup, Tennessee led 71-55 – doubling the eight-point lead in just five minutes – with 2:08 left.
Johnson hit both free throws after a hard foul on a defensive board for Tennessee's final points at 73. Fontenette accounted for the last of Texas' 55 points on a stick-back.
Tennessee turned up the heat, and Texas was running on fumes.
"I think a little of both," Goestenkors said. "I think we felt good, but then when I look at the stat sheet and I see we fouled three times in a row, that's fatigue."
Texas plays a fast pace with experienced guards, and the Longhorns got the Lady Vols out of their full court pressure in a hurry.
"People are preparing for our full-court pressure," Warlick said. "We've got to tweak it a little bit. Texas had a great game plan against it. They shot a couple of layups, and we felt we couldn't stay in our full-court pressure."
Goestenkors had noticed the zone press on game tape, but Texas had the answer for it with athletic guards who can handle the ball.
"I thought they'd start the game in their little 1-2-1-1 that they have," Goestenkors said. "They show that quite a bit, especially early on. I think they do have big respect for our guards, and we knew they'd have the half-court press as well and then the 2-3 zone that they trap out of, so I felt like we were very prepared, and I think a couple of times they did press us a little bit.
"Every time they pressed, we scored, so I think that made us feel very confident, and I think probably they decided to back off of it a little bit because we did handle it, I think, pretty well."
Instead, Tennessee switched between its man and zone half-court defenses with the zone scheme being particularly effective.
"At the end when we started pulling away, we had to go back to our man-to-man," Warlick said. "Our zone got us a little bit of a lead, and then they adjusted so this is going to be a man and a zone basketball team.
"In the past, you probably think of Tennessee being a hard-nosed, defensive man-to-man team, but that's not the case with this group. As much as I love man-to-man and I want us to play it, I want to win the basketball game, too. If we have to play zone, if we have to play whatever, we're going to do it to win the basketball game, and then we're going to continue to get better in practice in our man-to-man."
Goestenkors noted the versatility in Tennessee's defensive looks.
"I think they do a great job trying to find what works, and when we stopped attacking when they went to the zone, I felt like we started to stand around a bit, so they stayed in a zone," Goestenkors said.
"They've got a variety of defenses, and I think they continue to look at what's going to work for them, and when they find it, they stick with it."
Goestenkors looked at the treys and offensive boards – Texas' two areas of emphasis when it came to dealing with Tennessee – as the Longhorns' shortcomings.
"We talked before the game that we felt we had to obviously keep them off the boards because they're such a great offensive rebounding team, so our emphasis was really the boards and threes," Goestenkors said.
"They score (33) points from the three-point line, and that's the area we fell short. We gave up 20 offensive rebounds and 11 threes, so you've got to do the little things well to be successful against a great team especially on their home court, and we didn't do that tonight."
Tennessee out-rebounded Texas, 49-38, with 20 boards on the offensive end and 17 second-chance points compared to seven for the Longhorns.
"Winning the battle of the boards was key for our team today," Summitt said. "We knew Texas would go hard to the glass, and we really challenged our team not to have a rebounding letdown."
Tennessee hit 52.4 percent (11-21) of its long range shots while Texas connected on 38.9 percent (7-18) in a game in which the paint was not for the weak.
"Paint points were hard to come by … they were definitely earned by both teams today," Summitt said. "It was a physical battle."
Texas was led by Fontenette with 22 points, which gave her 1,020 for her career.
"I didn't even know I was close (to 1,000 points), so I'm kind of shocked right now," Fontenette said. "I think it's great. I think we did well as a team today. We just couldn't put it all together."
Fussell also reached double figures with 14 points. Cokie Reed, who missed last season after foot surgery, had four points and five boards in 20 minutes of court time.
"She can and will get a lot better," Goestenkors said. "We got her nine shots, which is good. We need to have that low-post presence, but to go 2-9 (from the field), we need her to go 7-9, and I think she will.
"She still gets fatigued pretty quickly. She was out for a full year, so it is a long recovery. She still doesn't practice every day with us, so it's just going to be a process. We feel good about where she is, but more importantly, we feel good about where she can go."
Texas is dependent on its guards for scoring, so a healthy Reed will take some pressure off of the perimeter players.
"It's going to be great," Fontenette said. "She's slowly getting back into things, so I think once she gets her legs back under her she is going to be hard to stop."
Texas shot 37.3 percent (27-59) overall and 6-10 (60 percent) from the line with Fussell a perfect 3-3. She has missed just two free throws this season and is now 26-28 from the stripe.
The Longhorns had 15 assists, 16 turnovers (which Tennessee turned into 21 points), eight blocks and four steals.
Tennessee had five players in double figures led by Stricklen's 20. Baugh got the double-double with 17 points and 11 boards, as did Johnson with 11 and 10. Massengale added 10 points, as did Simmons.
Tennessee shot 36.8 percent (25-68) overall and 60.0 percent (12-20) from the line.
The Lady Vols had 16 assists and just nine turnovers (which Texas converted into nine points), a low number, especially considering the pace of the game.
"For an up-and-down game, I've got to be pleased with just nine turnovers," Summitt said. "That's not a stat I am going to argue with today."
Tennessee also had nine steals with Stricklen accounting for three thefts, and four blocks with two swats from Harrison.
Overall, the coaching staff seemed pleased with the effort and outcome.
"I was proud of us for hanging in there and putting the game away with a little less than four minutes to go," Warlick said. "This team is pretty resilient. They get down and they keep fighting back.
"We've had teams in the past that would get down and not have that extra punch. This team seems to battle, and that's what I love about them."
INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE
Granted, it's not going out on a limb, but for three years the musing from Inside Tennessee has been that the Lady Vols would contend for a national title when Vicki Baugh was healthy.
This was told to Baugh in October at the 2011 SEC Media Day, and she just smiled. Her head coach, however, nodded in complete agreement.
It is not so much what the 6'4 redshirt senior forward puts in a box score – in Sunday's case it was 17 points on 8-10 shooting, 11 boards, two assists and a steal.
It is also what she brings to the team that a box score doesn't measure, such as leadership and accountability.
"She's such a great competitor," Texas Coach Gail Goestenkors said. "She's a great leader both on the court and off the court. You can always hear her. When I watch the tape, I can see her jumping up and down on the bench as well, so I think she brings a tremendous poise, confidence and leadership to their team that I think they need.
"And she's a big post that can take it coast to coast. She's a very difficult player to defend."
Baugh's presence on the court allows other players to inhabit their natural positions.
Glory Johnson moves to power forward and doesn't have to guard bigger and bulkier centers. Shekinna Stricklen, who played power forward with Johnson moving to center in the Virginia game that Baugh missed because of leg tightness, gets to start on the perimeter, which gives her freedom to launch long-range threes or opt for the midrange or put the ball on the floor.
Ariel Massengale is handling the bulk of the point guard minutes with backup from Meighan Simmons, and Taber Spani holds down the other perimeter spot.
The coaches are sorting through the rotation patterns – Sunday seemed to be the game to see Cierra Burdick with extended minutes against an athletic team and while she shot poorly at 0-6, the freshman did have three assists and sees the floor very well.
The staff will need to find minutes going forward for Alicia Manning, a senior forward whose grit on defense – she had a steal within seconds of entering late in the second half – and relentless attack of the boards will matter, especially in postseason.
"We just had some people step up," Holly Warlick said when asked about Manning, whose three minutes of court time puzzled the media.
"Now with Meighan getting a few more minutes and how Cierra played our last game, it decreased Manning's minutes. But by no means have we decided she's not playing. It's just kind of the opportunity – who we're playing and how people are producing on the court.
"I thought we had good combinations tonight. Everybody contributed. Taber may not have had her best game, but Taber continues to fight. We just felt the substitutions we had were good."
And it's all connected to Baugh. When she is healthy and effective, players enter the game at their natural positions, with Johnson and Stricklen perhaps being the biggest beneficiaries.
"It feels great," Stricklen said. "I'm finally playing in my spot on the wing. Having two good post players now and a great point guard, and two shooters on the wing, Meighan and Taber, it's been great, and I think our team is complete."
It also means Johnson's considerable durability – through all of the post injuries of the past three seasons the slender Johnson has always answered the bell at tipoff – and energy can be unleashed.
With Johnson and Baugh holding down the paint, Texas' two post players went 4-12 from the field and combined for just 11 rebounds.
Baugh had 11 boards by herself, including an offensive one in the first half in which she was surrounded by four Longhorns and still was the one with the outstretched arms to grab the ball and hit the putback.
Johnson was pulled down by her neck in the second half while grabbing a defensive rebound and she hit both free throws – part of a 5-6 effort from the line.
Baugh's presence also means a large post presence remains in the game if Johnson, who seems to be a too-often recipient of questionable calls not in her favor, has to take a seat on the bench.
In the last game, a Middle Tennessee player slid under Johnson in the open floor, and Johnson was called for a charge. Against Texas, she headed to the rim and was called for charging, despite the fact the Texas player was still backpedaling when Johnson arrived. The crowds at the arena vigorously booed both calls when they were shown on the overhead scoreboard monitor.
It has been this way for Johnson throughout her college career, but now it doesn't hinder Tennessee as much because Baugh remains the floor.
The Tennessee-Texas game was perimeter-oriented – both teams were stingy about allowing paint points – and Baugh's versatility came into play. She can score on the low block and step out and hit perimeter shots.
Baugh, who played point guard in high school in Sacramento, California – "I had to get familiar with the post position. It was a second position to me," Baugh said – has retained the court vision. When she got doubled down low against Texas, she peered around the pair and found Simmons alone behind the arc. That was her second assist. The first came when she fired the ball to an open Massengale.
Baugh also can score in transition since she runs the floor like a guard. Johnson got a defensive board off a missed free throw, did a dribble bust to start the fast break and passed to Stricklen, who hit Baugh with a pass at the rim.
It was a fast break play that didn't require a guard. All three frontline players can run the floor.
The win also was important in terms of setting the tone for the upcoming road trip.
Tennessee doesn't play at home again until Dec. 28 when Old Dominion comes to Knoxville in a series that began in 1977. The Lady Vols play the next four on the road – DePaul in Madison Square Garden in New York, at Rutgers in New Jersey, home for a day and then off to the state of California for games against UCLA and Stanford before breaking for the Christmas holidays.
Tennessee will be back at practice Monday in a busy week. Final exams run through Thursday.
"The next four-game stretch is really going to be a challenge for us," Summitt said. "We are going to take them one game at a time. All four teams have been playing well and each will certainly be a challenge for us.
"It's always exciting when you can take a team to Madison Square Garden to play. We'll start getting ready for DePaul."
It's a challenge made more manageable with Baugh back on the court.
And that is, in a nutshell, the biggest difference. Baugh is finally back on the court, able to participate in full-length practices and get used to her teammates and vice versa.
"I'm certainly a lot more comfortable," Baugh said. "I think what it is is that I'm able to be out on the floor and not have to sit and watch on the sideline, and in practice as well.
"I've been involved at almost every practice. I think I've only missed one."
That is in sharp contrast to last season when Baugh would miss extended stretches of practice time – and sometimes entire sessions – because of knee pain.
"We have a lot of confidence and look up to Vicki," Warlick said. "If she plays the way she played (Sunday), we will win a lot more ballgames."
Coaches entrance, Lady Vol basketball manager Meggie Briley sings national anthem, introduction of starters
Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick
Lady Vols Shekinna Stricklen, Vicki Baugh, Meighan Simmons
Texas Coach Gail Goestenkors, Ashley Fontenette
Highlights from Tennessee Lady Vols website