KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Pat Summitt keeps reminding her Tennessee players that they haven’t won anything big yet. The way the Lady Volunteers have plowed through their Southeastern Conference schedule this season, she may need a new way to motivate them.
The fourth-ranked Lady Vols got off to a fast start and never slowed down in a 77-44 win against No. 22 Georgia to seal their 16th SEC regular-season title and second in a row.
“I always tell them that they haven’t won anything,” Summit said. “It was important for them to be able to clinch this, and I feel like the overall maturity of this team has allowed us to be very focused and also very confident. We’re a confident team, and we want to stay that way.”
By Tennessee standards, an SEC regular-season title isn’t much to talk about, though. The Lady Vols have won eight national championships in their storied history, but only three players on the current squad have made it past the regional semifinals in the NCAA tournament.
Still, this year’s Tennessee team is playing more like a team that could contend for a spot in the Final Four. The Lady Vols (26-2, 14-0) have beaten their opponents by an average of 24.2 points during their undefeated run through conference play with two more games left.
They’ve had 25 consecutive SEC victories since dropping a 53-50 decision to the Lady Bulldogs on Jan. 21, 2010, at Athens, Ga. The teams went back and forth in that game until Porsha Phillips scored the last four points to seal the victory for Georgia.
This time Tennessee took care of business early against the league’s second-place team, jumping out to a 10-2 lead after two fast 3-pointers by Meighan Simmons. Glory Johnson rebounded her own missed shot and dished it to Taber Spani, who hit a 12-foot jumper to cap a 12-3 run and give Tennessee a 27-12 lead with 7:45 in the first half.
“I just think for me hitting my first two shots and then being able to hit teammates who are wide open, that really gets us started,” Simmons said.
The Lady Vols used 50 percent shooting in the first half to take a 40-21 halftime lead and continued the pace to build their lead to as many as 37 points with 4:22 to play.
The scoring came from all over the floor and from 10 different Lady Vols. Simmons led the way with 14 points, while Spani and Shekinna Stricklen each had 11. Johnson had nine points that gave her 1,002 points for her career, making her the 36th Tennessee player to reach 1,000.
Georgia (20-7, 10-4) had already beaten three ranked opponents this season with two victories against Kentucky and another at Arkansas. The Lady Bulldogs hadn’t lost by more than 16 points all season and was facing Tennessee after perhaps its best game of the season, an 18-point win against then-No. 19 Kentucky in which five players logged double-digit scoring.
The Lady Bulldogs launched 3-pointers early and often with very few of them falling before halftime. They were 3 of 15 from behind the arc at halftime and finished 8 for 34.
“I don’t think Georgia played very well,” Lady Bulldogs coach Andy Landers said. “I thought we looked like we lacked confidence as we started the game, and that surprised me. We started the game executing very poorly, and you can also say we looked like we did that the whole game, and I would understand that.”
Those 34 3-point shots accounted for more than half of all of Georgia’s shots from the field, and the Lady Bulldogs shot 25.3 percent for the game. Jasmine James led the team with 11 points, and Anne Marie Armstrong had 10.
Tennessee outrebounded Georgia 49-33, logged nine more second-chance points and scored 18 more points in the paint.
“I definitely think there was a sense of urgency going down 6-0 right off the bat,” James said. “Then there was definitely a sense of urgency to try and get on the board and match them and try to keep it a close game. Maybe we had too much of a sense of urgency that we rushed shots and made bad passes.”