Georgia scored first. 2-0 was the last lead they would enjoy all game long.
After the score, Tennessee promptly opened up an 11-4 lead. After some back-and-forth throughout the first half, the Lady Vols found their characteristic second gear in the second half, outscoring the Lady Bulldogs 44-24 on the way to a commanding victory. It's yet another victory in what is honestly the best longstanding rivalry in the SEC, with two Hall of Fame coaches playing a game with 1948 (now 1949) combined victories between them.
The story of the game was Ariel Massengale. The freshman point guard is going to be a joy for Lady Vols fans over the next four years, and tonight she exhibited the potential to be a serious scoring weapon, scoring 11 early points to create the lead that the Lady Vols would never relinquish. She also had 9 assists (and should have had several more, if the other gals hadn't missed so many chip shots) to only 1 turnover - a staggering A/TO of 9. She wasn't the only Lady Vol to have an absolutely stellar night, but she deserves the spotlight simply for showing off her offensive arsenal and giving Tennessee yet one more reason to be optimistic about the postseason.
Really, though, the greatest frustration for Georgia was Tennessee's full-court press. Even though it wasn't a turnover machine, the press forced Georgia to bring the ball up court slowly, often spending half the shotclock just getting past the halfcourt line. Georgia's a team that likes to slow down the tempo and force teams to play defense; with just 15 seconds on the clock, their halfcourt set became hurried and Georgia's shooting percentages suffered, only making 35% from the field and 19% from three. Several of Georgia's shots came as the clock wound down to zero, with the shotclock buzzer becoming a familiar tone while the ball was in the air. (Give Georgia credit for making far more of those shots than you'd think they should; Georgia is a talented team, after all.)
On the offensive end, Tennessee's passing was as crisp as has been seen in the last four years. Ariel set the team up very well from the point guard position, and from there the Lady Vols found ways to pass Georgia's defense out of position. As a result, Georgia fouled Tennessee 21 total times to Tennessee's 9 fouls. The difference in made free throws accounted for +17 points for Tennessee.
It's hard to find criticism in a 29 point victory, but improvement always demands hard judgment. Outside of Johnson and Massengale, Alicia Manning shot 0-4, Stricklen shot 5-15, Simmons shot 3-11, Williams shot 0-5, and Harrison shot 1-4. That's a whole lot of people with a whole lot of misses, and against a top ten team, that could be the difference between a victory and a loss. Many of those misses were relatively easy shots that just bounced out, so it's not like it's a matter of shot selection. There are just several Lady Vols who could be flirting with a shooting slump (especially Stricklen), which may be an issue when they play Kentucky and Notre Dame later in the season.
A few notes from Chris: the Lady Vols played a 6-man rotation for much of the game, using bench players more as a breather for the starters than as dedicated contributors. Despite this being the third game in five days, that blowout against Chattanooga allowed Summitt to rest her starters, which made a significant difference in the outcome. This is why taking care of business against overmatched teams is important. (Aside: the bench players made huge contributions while they played. This was also a key to the game.) Also, Chris noticed that Georgia largely dictated the tempo in most of the first half, but was never able to effectively close the gap once Tennessee jumped out to a lead. Playing a very talented team on their terms and holding serve is a credit to the team, even at home.
Moving forward, there is reason to pay attention to Glory Johnson against Arkansas on Sunday. Her 22 points and 13 rebounds would normally have earned her Player of the Game honors, if it weren't for Ariel's fantastic shooting performance. But more importantly for the stat sheet, Glory Johnson now sits at 996 rebounds in her Tennessee career, only four away from hitting the rare 1,000 point / 1,000 rebound career. That alone makes the Arkansas game worth the price of admission, even if it is a road game.
Arkansas is up on Sunday. The Lady Vols take to the road, where they are not as dominant, but where Stricklen has historically had career performances in front of her seemingly endless family. The story will be Johnson, who will almost certainly hit the 1,000 rebound mark, but it will also be a great opportunity for Tennessee to find their road legs and turn in a full performance without a friendly crowd behind them.
Player of the Game: Ariel Massengale. What can't this point guard do?
Sweet Mother of Breadsticks, Ariel!