AUBURN, Ala. -- Sophomore Janiah McKay scored a career-high 29 points to lead Auburn women's basketball to its first win over Tennessee since 2009, a 79-61 victory at Auburn Arena Thursday night.
For the second straight game and third time this season, Auburn (14-5, 4-1 SEC) found itself down by 17 points, this time in the first quarter as the Lady Vols (11-7, 2-3) opened the game on a 25-8 run. But for the second straight game and third time this season, the Tigers overcame that deficit -- and this time it only took one quarter.
"The first thing I said to my young ladies when I walked in (the locker room) was, `Is 17 a number you want to tell me about or something?'" Auburn head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. "For us to go down 17 again is just unbelievable. They're just a relentless group. Sometimes, I don't even think that they look at the clock and realize how far down that they are, they just keep playing. It's almost like we just have to get it out of us a little bit. Kind of shell-shocked a little bit. I don't think they thought they could play that bad in the first quarter, but they were just relentless and kept fighting for the rest of the game."
A 3-pointer from Katie Frerking at the halftime buzzer gave Auburn a 38-36 lead, and the Tigers would never trail again, increasing their lead to as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter.
"I thought we did a good job with the scouting report and emphasizing to attack the basket," Williams-Flournoy said. "Janiah knew that she could get to the basket. Katie started getting to the basket. It was something that we had talked about, but you don't know if you can do it or not until you actually do it. That's a great percentage for us to get into the paint and we had told them before that I didn't want them to take more than 10 3s."
McKay's 29 points were one more than her previous high, a 28-point effort against Virginia Tech on Dec. 18. She was a perfect 3-for-3 on 3-pointers and was 11-for-21 from the field, season-highs in all categories. Frerking added 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting and pulled down a team-leading seven rebounds.
"Well, hitting that first 3 definitely raised my confidence," McKay said and so once I was hitting the 3s and some of the midrange, then I was getting to the rack, so they didn't know what I was going to do. So, they might run out at me and now the lane is wide open, now they're helping so I can dish to Jaz (Jones) or get it to Katie (Frerking), so it just helps when the lane opens up, and I love attacking."
Auburn's defense paced the comeback, forcing the Lady Vols into 22 turnovers that turned into 33 Auburn points -- all but one turnover coming in the final three quarters. Jessica Jones and Erica Sanders led Auburn with four steals apiece, and Sanders added a career-high five assists.
The Lady Vols had just a one-rebound advantage on the boards, 31-30, as the Tigers pulled down 14 offensive rebounds on the night. The Tigers shot 50.8 percent from the floor; after missing their first five shots of the game, Auburn shot 56 percent the rest of the way. Auburn scored 46 points in the paint to Tennessee's 28.
From the final minute of the first quarter through the midpoint of the fourth quarter, Auburn outscored Tennessee 61-21. The comeback started with a 13-0 run to open the second quarter, cutting the UT lead to 25-23. Auburn took its first lead with 4:30 to play in the half on a McKay 3-pointer, and Frerking's trey at the buzzer put the Tigers up 38-36 at the half. McKay scored 15 of Auburn's 28 points in that second quarter as Auburn put up 16 points off seven Tennessee turnovers.
The third quarter was more of the same as the Tigers held the Lady Vols scoreless for more than five minutes, putting together a 13-2 run to take a 51-38 lead. The 17-point deficit would become a 17-point lead by the end of the quarter as Auburn led 59-42. After the Tigers pushed their advantage to as much as 23 midway through the fourth quarter, Tennessee cut into their deficit slightly, but never got closer than 15 points.
It was Auburn's first win over Tennessee since the 2009 SEC Championship season when the Tigers beat the Lady Vols twice; the victory snapped a nine-game losing streak in the series. The 17-point margin was Auburn's largest over Tennessee in a regular-season game.
Mercedes Russell picked up her 11th double-double of the season with 26 points and 11 rebounds to lead Tennessee. Diamond DeShields added 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Auburn is back in action at home Sunday afternoon as the Tigers host Kentucky at 2 p.m. Fans are encouraged to wear orange for the annual "All Auburn, All Orange" game. Tickets are available at AUBTix.com.