NASHVILLE - Tennessee wanted to cross up Georgia with its defensive strategy Saturday afternoon.
First, the Lady Vols had to make sure they weren't confused for a semifinal game at the SEC women's basketball tournament. The coaches raised some eyebrows at the morning shooting practice when they asked the players to line up in a man-to-man alignment.
"Really?'' said guard Kamiko Williams, describing her reaction. "OK. Never mind about the zone."
UT had something else in mind besides solely relying on a defense that was instrumental in a 33-point rout in the regular-season meeting with the Lady Bulldogs.
"If you played 40 minutes of zone the first time, they're probably going to have worked on it,'' associate head coach Holly Warlick said.
Despite the short notice, the Lady Vols made the new plan work almost as well as the old one. They held Georgia without a basket for the first 10-plus minutes in an 82-58 victory.
Led by freshman point guard Meighan Simmons' 18 points, Tennessee (30-2) eventually gained enough scoring traction to lead by as many as 27 points before a crowd of 10,207 at Bridgestone Arena. Glory Johnson scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Angie Bjorklund scored 10.
Jasmine Hassell scored a game-high 20 points, 16 in the second half, for Georgia (21-10).
UT will face Kentucky today (TV: ESPN2, 5:30 p.m.) in a rematch of last season's championship game. The Wildcats beat Vanderbilt 69-56 in the other semifinal.
Although they occasionally lined up a zone, the Lady Vols spent the majority of the first half playing man-to-man. The Lady Bulldogs still looked perplexed, missing their first 13 shots before Khaalidah Miller hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 9 minutes, 55 seconds left before halftime.
"I think this was one of our best games talking on defense,'' UT center Alyssia Brewer said. "The first couple minutes of the game you could tell they were confused and didn't know what to do. We just were talking the entire time."
The Lady Bulldogs were struggling in the same manner as a 77-44 loss in Knoxville on Feb. 21.
"I think we weren't very comfortable in the offense," Georgia forward Porsha Phillips said. "We didn't settle down."
The Lady Bulldogs were fortunate that Tennessee wasn't very comfortable in its offense either. After a solid start, the Lady Vols' shooting percentage dipped to 30.4 percent as they went 7:04 between baskets by Taber Spani and Bjorklund.
"It's nice to see that even when we don't make shots, our defense keeps us up in games,'' Spani said.
Georgia was lurking within 35-22 at halftime and mustered 36 points in the second half. But Tennessee found its second scoring wind and countered with 47 points, shooting 56.3 percent (18 for 32) in the final 20 minutes.
"We have our moments where our defense is blase,'' Williams said. "But for some reason we always have a good offensive game. Even if our shots aren't falling for a moment, it (eventually) starts clicking."
Brewer volunteered a reason why.
"Teams talk about they have weapons,'' she said. "I think our weapon is having so many players that you can put on the floor and get something out of."
Such a luxury allowed Bjorklund to second guess the missed 3-pointer that ended her streak of consecutive treys at nine.
"Right when it left my hand,'' she said, "I'm like: 'I probably shouldn't have' …"
Since Tennessee emptied its bench and only Simmons played more than 26 minutes, forward Alicia Manning took the strategy initiative for today.
"I think our team is so prepared with our conditioning and how deep our bench is,'' she said. "A lot of other teams are only playing seven or eight players.
"I think that's going to pay off (today). I'd love to get out and run them in the ground early."
Dan Fleser covers Lady Vols basketball. He may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/fleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser/