Youth movement: Freshmen power Lady Vols over Georgia
By David Cobb | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Jasmine Jones passed ahead to a sprinting Bashaara Graves, who scored a layup that gave Tennessee a 63-53 advantage, UT’s first double-digit lead of the game.
As Georgia called timeout and walked back to its huddle, UT’s Meighan Simmons skipped to center court and pumped her arms, urging an already roaring Lady Vol crowd of 12,319 to its feet.
The sequence accurately encapsulated all the crucial factors of the No. 12 Lady Vols’ 79-66 win over No. 10 Georgia Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Graves, a freshman forward, led UT with a career-high 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting. Jones also scored a career-high 12 points, along with a seven-rebound and four-assist effort.
She too is a freshman.
“I think it’s a reflection of how poorly we played defensively inside,” said Georgia coach Andy Landers, a native of Blount County. “They’ve got two freshman in there that had career days today. We weren’t very good defensively.
“And there you have it.”
Simmons, in addition to her cheerleading, quietly contributed 16 points, 11 of them coming in a second half that saw the Lady Vols outscore Georgia 39-24 while building their lead to as much as 19.
Georgia led 42-40 at halftime, but a Simmons 3-pointer from the top of the key on UT’s first offensive possession of the second half sparked a 7-0 run and gave the Lady Vols a lead they would not relinquish.
“It’s easy: You motivate them,” UT coach Holly Warlick said of her halftime talk with the team. “And I motivated them in a certain way, and I challenged them.”
“I would really like us to play a 40-minute game and start off a lot better,” she said. “But as a coach, it’s about finishing the job, getting the job done. I would like to get out of the gates a little faster, but this team doesn’t give up, and as a coach you love that.”
With sophomore forward Cierra Burdick out of the lineup after breaking a bone in her hand and freshman guard Andraya Carter out with an injured shoulder, UT rotated just seven players against the Lady Bulldogs.
After playing only eight minutes in UT’s previous two games, Jones saw 23 minutes of action Sunday and rose to the occasion, embracing the fast-paced but physical action of Sunday’s game against the Lady Bulldogs (13-2, 1-1 SEC) with the best game of her young career.
“It does a lot,” said the soft-spoken Jones after the game. “I haven’t been playing to the best of my abilities, so to come out here with the encouragement of everybody else, I just felt like I needed to believe in myself as much as everybody else does.”
As Warlick looks to build on her team’s 2-0 start in SEC play, she’s hoping for repeat performances both from her team, which held Georgia to 25 percent shooting in the second half, and from Jones.
“I think now that she’s shown everybody what she can do, there’s no turning back,” Warlick said. “We’ll hold her accountable for how she played today.”
Tennessee’s next test comes Thursday with an 8 p.m. tip against SEC newcomer Missouri at Thompson-Boling Arena.