John Adams: Lady Vols' strong SEC start will go long way in maintaining conference superiority

John Adams
Tennessee's Jasmine Jones tries to get around Georgia's Anne Marie Armstrong, left, and Jasmine Hassell at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday, January 6, 2013. Tennessee defeated Georgia, 79-66. 

(Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, 2012 Knoxville News Sentinel

Tennessee's Jasmine Jones tries to get around Georgia's Anne Marie Armstrong, left, and Jasmine Hassell at Thompson-Boling Arena on Sunday, January 6, 2013. Tennessee defeated Georgia, 79-66. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Tennessee's tough early SEC schedule turned out to be even tougher for the opposition.

Georgia went the way of South Carolina on Sunday afternoon. And the 12th-ranked Lady Vols went to the top of the conference in women's basketball.

Sound familiar?

UT (11-3) is no longer as prominent on the national level as it once was, but it again has gained the upper hand in a conference it has long dominated.

Tennessee's come-from-behind, 79-66 victory over No. 10 Georgia at Thompson-Boling Arena wasn't much different from its victory over No. 18 South Carolina on Thursday night in Columbia, S.C. Three days after outscoring South Carolina by 19 points in the second half, it outscored Georgia by 15.

Don't take UT's 2-0 SEC start at face value. The record is even better than it looks for a program seeking a third regular-season conference championship in four years.

The Lady Vols might not play a better conference team until they take on Texas A&M and Kentucky the last two games of the regular season.

"Honestly, I'm glad those two games are over," UT first-year head coach Holly Warlick said.

Her relief is understandable. For a team that lost all five starters from last season, the opening conference schedule was hardly accommodating. The challenge was exacerbated by the loss of injured starter Cierra Burdick, who suffered a broken hand before the South Carolina game.

But the healthy players left on the roster responded with their best back-to-back games of the season.

"Cierra was a big part of our success physically and in being a vocal leader," Warlick said. "So everybody stepped up a little bit."

Freshmen Bashaara Graves (23 points and eight rebounds) and Jasmine Jones (12 points, seven rebounds) were among the noteworthy contributors against Georgia. So were veterans Taber Spani and Meighan Simmons.

Coming off a season-high 18 points against South Carolina, Spani had 11 points and seven rebounds against Georgia. Her 29 points in two games are five more than she had in the previous four games.

Simmons, who ranks fifth in the SEC in scoring, seemed strangely reluctant to shoot against Georgia in the first half. That wasn't necessarily by design.

"I just think she is understanding where we want to get points from," Warlick said. "She was really focused on the defensive end."

The Lady Bulldogs still will remember Simmons' shots more than her stops.

Warlick reviews 79-66 Tennessee win over Georgia

Simmons, who had 11 of her 16 points after halftime, began Tennessee's second-half charge with a 3-pointer. She had another 3-pointer and a wicked baseline jump shot off the glass in a 14-3 run that forged a 66-53 lead.

Graves had four points and an assist during the same pivotal stretch, reminding you this team's success will have to be a collaboration of veterans and freshmen.

"I knew Bashaara was a good player, but I didn't know we would get the productivity and durability (from her)," Warlick said of a player averaging 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds. "She has a little bit of Glory (Johnson) in her as far as just getting on the blocks and going to work."

Earlier in the same interview session, Spani referred to Jones as a "mini-Glory."

Imagine that. Four days into SEC play, UT has two victories over nationally ranked teams and two freshmen being compared to a former Lady Vols All-American.

That puts them ahead of schedule in their quest for a 17th regular-season SEC championship.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 10

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

Way, way too early to say anything of the kind.

jt45 writes:

Correction, the Lady Vols have 6 wins over ranked opponents or they were when they played them.

strops writes:

little john adams, let Dan write about the Lady Vols. He knows what he's doing whereas you are just a bandwagon jumper who thinks you know everything about every UT sport. You may be listed as a columnist but in reality you are just the "Chief Troll".

BruisedOrange writes:

Very nice perspective piece--which is tough to do this early in a season.

This should be a season to enjoy game-by-game. Don't worry or think about how it might, could, or should end. Just enjoy watching young players grow up, seniors playing with the freedom that comes from experience, and a team creating its own chemistry and developing confidence.

KCHS63 writes:

Kentucky...Texas A&M...an excellent Florida team...Vanderbilt...and one more non-conference biggie, UConn killer Notre Dame. 'Nuf said. We've started out with fire and passion. Let's wait to count these chickens AFTER they've hatched. Oh yeah, and AFTER we've played a 40 minute game. Go Lady Vols!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jt45:

Correction, the Lady Vols have 6 wins over ranked opponents or they were when they played them.

He was talking SEC only. Both USCe and UGA were ranked teams, and they are the only SEC teams the LVs have played yet.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BruisedOrange:

Very nice perspective piece--which is tough to do this early in a season.

This should be a season to enjoy game-by-game. Don't worry or think about how it might, could, or should end. Just enjoy watching young players grow up, seniors playing with the freedom that comes from experience, and a team creating its own chemistry and developing confidence.

Well said, BO. It just knocks me out how every game is an immediate harbinger of the future to some fans. If they lose, the sky is falling; if they win, they are hotter than a $2 pistol. One has to like the way they are trending right now, but there is a LONG way to go, and these gals are just starting to see how good they can be. Just enjoy the journey with them. I know I will.

bbfn writes:

Article is misleading. UT at the top of the SEC, along with Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and A&M. Overall win percentage is third place in the conference. Time for a reality check.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to bbfn:

Article is misleading. UT at the top of the SEC, along with Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and A&M. Overall win percentage is third place in the conference. Time for a reality check.

The reality is that none of the SEC teams with better overall won-lost records have anything CLOSE to UT's strength of schedule. They build those gaudy preseason records feasting on cupcakes and then go down in a heap when they play anybody worthwhile. Check it out and if I'm wrong, I'll apologize, but I don't think I am.

Theo writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Well said, BO. It just knocks me out how every game is an immediate harbinger of the future to some fans. If they lose, the sky is falling; if they win, they are hotter than a $2 pistol. One has to like the way they are trending right now, but there is a LONG way to go, and these gals are just starting to see how good they can be. Just enjoy the journey with them. I know I will.

Totally agree, this talented young team and first year coaching staff will produce jaw dropping wins and losses this year. The good news is the talent is great,the chemistry is developing, the coaching staff seems to really work well together and with the kids and the recruiting pipeline looks reestablished. Great time to be a LV fan.

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