No. 4 Tennessee 82, Georgia 58
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
Tennessee point guard Meighan Simmons admits she needed a little time to get used to playing in her first Southeastern Conference tournament. Fortunately for the Lady Volunteers, it didn't take the freshman long.
Simmons scored 18 points and No. 4 Tennessee beat Georgia 82-58 on Saturday in the SEC tournament semifinals.
''There was a lot of pressure yesterday,'' Simmons said. ''I've never been in this situation. I think the second game, my mindset just totally changed. I just have to go out there, play my game, not be intimidated by my opponent, listen to what coach has to say, just go out there and play hard.
Simmons will keep learning on the fly as she makes her first SEC championship appearance and the Lady Volunteers (30-2) play in their 20th conference championship against No. 16 Kentucky, which beat Vanderbilt 69-56. Tennessee has won 21 consecutive games and 32 straight against SEC opponents dating to a 53-50 loss to the Lady Bulldogs on Jan. 21, 2010.
The Lady Vols blew through the SEC regular season undefeated, beating their foes by an average of 24.1 points. Coach Pat Summitt admits she didn't focus too much on going undefeated in league play until recently.
''As we got closer, I didn't want to lose. I started to feel my hands get a little sweaty when I was coming to the gym because I thought, 'We've gone this long, we don't want to lose,''' she said. ''I think it's something special. It came from this team.''
Tennessee scored the first nine points of the game and never trailed. A 3-pointer by Taber Spani gave the Lady Vols a 16-2 lead with 13:51 left in the first half.
The fourth-seeded Lady Bulldogs (21-10) missed their first 14 shots from the field. The Lady Vols, who shot 40.6 percent in the first half, could have pulled away quickly but missed several layups.
Khaalidah Miller broke the drought when she hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key just before the shot clock expired to cut the margin to 16-5 with 9:55 to go before halftime, and Georgia scored the next seven points to pull to 16-9 but wouldn't get any closer.
The Lady Bulldogs wouldn't completely go away, either.
It wasn't until 15:10 to go in the game that Tennessee took control. Kelley Cain missed another layup, but Johnson successfully grabbed the rebound in a crowd of Georgia defenders and fought to put back the ball, scoring a layup.
After Meredith Mitchell missed a shot for the Lady Bulldogs, Johnson missed a shot of her own but got the rebound and the follow-up layup. Shekinna Stricklen then hit a layup and was fouled by Mitchell, sinking the free throw to make it 53-34 with 13:36 to go.
Johnson finished with 14 points, and Angie Bjorklund added 10 points for Tennessee.
''There's not a lot you can say other than they whipped us,'' Georgia coach Andy Landers said. ''I thought our inability to box out, particularly Glory on the offensive rebound and Stricklen on the offensive board, really created problems for us.''
Jasmine Hassell led the Lady Bulldogs with 20 points, and Porsha Phillips had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Georgia shot just 23.1 percent in the first half and warmed up to 40.5 percent after halftime, but couldn't overcome Tennessee's 56.3 percent shooting in the second half.
''I think Hassell did a great job putting her body into them, scoring, finishing the shot,'' Phillips said. ''I think that helped us a lot, but it wasn't enough. We should have posted up harder and been more physical.''