Lady Vols defeat Georgia, 79-66, on Jan. 6, 2013
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.
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.
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.