If the goal is to play your best basketball during the postseason, then no coach in the country can be any happier than Pat Summitt. After an injury-plagued year with a considerable 'wandering-in-the-desert' phase, Tennessee appears to finally be gelling. The team that started the season relying on Meighan Simmons for an offensive spark is now leaning first on their outstanding defensive efforts.
The most telling stat of the game was that Georgia scored their first field goal with 9:51 left on the clock in the first half. In short, they waited until 25% of the game was over before getting a bucket, and only had 2 free throws before that point. Georgia's offense went into a shell for most of the game, often abandoning the pass entirely on possessions and never really establishing any confidence. They had a few scoring spurts when Tennessee went on a couple of turnover binges, but with the Lady Vols committing only 10 turnovers all game long, that's hardly a recipe for success.
The real magic on defense was the hand control. Tennessee has always had a strong zone and man-switch defense, but what they did today may be called the Hundred Hands defense, only without the contact. Tennessee's hands were in Georgia faces, blocking shots, blocking passes, and making steals all over the place. By the time the second half rolled around, the Lady Bulldogs had no idea what to do with the ball unless they had it in transition. Their halfcourt offense was destroyed, and they were finished.
On the offensive end, Tennessee went to work in the paint. The combined 15 field goal from Glory Johnson, Kelley Cain, Vicki Baugh, and Shekinna Stricklen came almost exclusively in the paint, with a few drives by Meighan Simmons and Kamiko Williams for good measure; Tennessee tallied 34 total paint points in the game. Ball possession was much improved, with 12 assists and 10 turnovers to Tennessee's credit. Honestly, if their shooting had been as sharp as it was against Florida, that assist number would have been much greater, as Tennessee's passing was excellent and most of the missed shots were wide-open attempts that rattled out of the rim. As it was, they settled for a mere 48% from the field - a number that fell under 50% after the bench was cleared and the game was long over.
Like Florida, Georgia had no answer for Glory Johnson, and I see no reason to expect anything different in the SEC championship game. To borrow a Wayne Gretsky term, Glory's "office" is below the basket, just to either side. Once she gets the ball in that position, there's no sense in defending her anymore. She will either score or keep getting her own rebound until she scores or until she is fouled. Either way, she wins.
Kelley Cain went into beast mode as well in this game, having her first truly dominant performance in a long time. Having her sit out and rest over the last few games appears to have given her a new bounce in her step. Her 7 points and 3 blocks in 17 minutes does not capture the amount of redirection that Georgia did to keep the ball well away from the 6'-6" center. With Cain in the game for most of the first half, Georgia too only two shots in the paint, and only made one.
It was also a relief to see Meighan Simmons have such a great game. Her 18 points came on 7/13 shooting with 3/6 from three. She didn't just jack up shots tonight; all her attempts were understandable. Her decision-making was crisp as well, with 5 assists and only 3 turnovers in her Lady Vol-leading 34 minutes of action.
Breadsticks Winner: Meighan Simmons
Bring on Kentucky. Or Vanderbilt. Right now, I'm not sure it matters.