The Lady Bulldogs never had a chance.
You'd be forgiven for not thinking this game was for the SEC regular season. To be fair, it looked like a close game for the first 7:30; Georgia didn't lead, but facing a 15-9 deficit, the game certainly seemed within reach. The Lady Vols outscored them 62-36 the rest of the way, and what should've been a close, tight contest turned into an easy SEC regular season crown.
For all the concerns I've had about this team as the season wore on, I had no reason to be concerned about the game tonight. Tennessee spent the better part of the game doubling up Georgia's point total, letting it slip late once the contest was out of hand, down the street, and into the sewer. (That final doubling? 70-35, 3:39 left in the second half.) This was as complete an effort as anyone can ask for; Georgia kept it close on the boards in the first half - and got obliterated to the tune of 25-12 in the second half. Porsha Phillips spent most of the game paying rent to Glory Johnson and Vicki Baugh. There weren't any double-doubles, but that wasn't needed tonight. Tonight was the rebirth of a few players: Meighan Simmons, Alicia Manning, Vicki Baugh. Georgia shot 25.8% from the floor, which isn't going to cut it - not when the Ladies shoot 50%. Glory Johnson notched her 1,000th point as a Lady Vol tonight, too.
And this happened without Kelley Cain and Angie Bjorklund. Tennessee notches the SEC regular season crown as easy as you like.
In many ways, this was a continuation of the second half against Vanderbilt, where Tennessee imposed their will on a Vanderbilt team that couldn't hold on, even given a 13-point lead. That was the first time we've really seen a killer instinct from this team, and if Memorial Gym didn't convince you, this game ought to have (and credit to Glory Johnson in the postgame for basically coming out and saying this was a message game and following through). This makes 16 regular season SEC titles for Pat Summitt.
That's one check mark; next up is the SEC Tournament. Hopefully the aftermath of that includes a second check mark and a #1 seed. Player breakdowns below the jump.
I'm going to co-opt Hooper's summary methods:
Tennessee's blessed with some serious power forward game. Glory Johnson had 9 points, 9 rebounds, and a couple of assists; Vicki Baugh had 9/7 and 3 blocks. Both players did a great job playing deep in the post and using their absurd athleticism to their advantage (Baugh took her defender off the dribble from the top of the key twice, with Glory on the floor for one of them). Georgia has a good interior game, and both players shredded it. Baugh in particular was impressive; if this wasn't a one-off game for her, Tennessee's going to be gifted with a great problem.
Alicia Manning had a good flow-of-the-game type of game, for lack of better wording. 6 and 8 for her, and while she didn't stand out, she doesn't need to on this team. (Quite frankly: there are two starting spots on the interior, and she's not jumping all of Baugh, Cain, Johnson, and Brewer. Plus she has to fight Stricklen for PT, and good luck with that.) Brewer wasn't terribly active and struggled from the floor, going 3-for-9 - fortunately, she wasn't needed tonight.
Meighan Simmons had the quietest 6-11, 14-point, 4-assist game I've ever seen from her. She pulled down POG honors (I'd opt to give it to Baugh - there was no answer for her - but this was a game where one of about 5 people could've gotten that, so no real bones here), and more importantly, she played under control. I don't know if she's finally settled down or if she's accepted she doesn't have to do it all, but once she started to play within herself things started to click in a hurry.
It helps her that Lauren Avant has come on, but most of the team support has come from the sources we already knew - Glory, Stricklen, and Bjorklund. Bjorklund was back tonight (she hit a three and that was about it), but there are more sources for points and leadership. More importantly, this is the second strong game in a row she's had. If she's turned the corner, the sky's the limit.
Taber Spani went 5-8 and did a great job finding open space on the floor. Kamiko Williams wasn't needed too much tonight, but threw up seven boards (including a nice collection and putback on a drive late in the game) and five points. Avant did play for a bit late; I feel like 0-2, 3-4 from the line sounds about right for what we should expect from her.
The Stricklen Section
In some respects, Stricklen had it easy tonight, but 11/6/6 is nothing to sneeze at, especially when coupled with no turnovers. (I don't entirely agree with Hooper that A-TO doesn't matter, but anytime those numbers are 23 and 12 respectively, you're probably having a good night; when they're 6 and 0 like Stricklen, you can do very little wrong.) It wasn't obvious she was there, but this was a team effort. She didn't need to be, and with the game well in hand, a steady influence was all that was needed. Steady, complete, and in the end dominant. That's what you want from the team leader, right?
That's the message tonight; there weren't any individual stars (and really, everyone's stats could've been bumped by one or two points or boards here and there, but it wasn't to be) and there was no need for them. This team - finally - is what we were hoping for. Three players tonight could've stepped up if need be, and a fourth is rounding into the shape she was in two years ago. And there's still a gap for a dominant low post player and a three-point shooter that demands attention.
In a related story, Kelley Cain has two games to get healthy and Angie Bjorklund is back. They can both step up if needed, too. Welcome to the land of optimism.