For Tennessee coaches, the evidence of Glory Johnson’s heart is in the senior’s rebounding totals. Her scoring is a bonus.
Johnson, who has 1,331 total points and needs four rebounds to reach 1,000 for her career, had season highs of 22 points and 13 rebounds to help the sixth-ranked Lady Vols beat No. 16 Georgia 80-51 Thursday night.
“You look at Glory and you see her points, but she plays with a lot of heart,” Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “How you determine that, to me, is how many rebounds she gets, how many hustle plays she got. She was all over the floor tonight. She was an All-American tonight.”
The Lady Vols (11-3, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) used 52 percent shooting in the first half keep in front of the Lady Bulldogs, who hit just 36 percent of their shots from the field. Tennessee has now won 16 of its last 18 against its top SEC rival.
Johnson hit the first basket of the second half to give Tennessee a 38-27 lead. Jasmine Hassell answered with a short jumper, Jasmine James sank a free throw and Anne Marie Armstrong hit a layup on the break to cut the margin to six points.
“I just knew it was going to be a quick game, and we all know that Georgia loves to run in transition every time we play them,” Johnson said. “We just wanted to let them know that we’re a team that can run in transition too, and so it’s going to be a game.”
It didn’t take long for it to stop being much of a game. Shekinna Stricklen was fouled on a layup and hit her free throw to launch a 14-4 run that helped the Lady Vols pull away. Johnson scored six points during the stretch.
Cierra Burdick put back a shot with 3:57 to play to make it 76-45, Tennessee’s largest lead of the game, and the reserves ran the show the rest of the way.
“They did what they do, and we didn’t affect it very well,” said Georgia coach Andy Landers, whose 15 career wins against Tennessee is more than any other head coach. “I’m not real pleased with that. Not pleased at all. They did what they do. That sums it up. They played the way they played. Georgia didn’t do one thing to change it.”
Ariel Massengale scored 19 points for a second game to tie her career high at Tennessee. Stricklen added 12 points, Meighan Simmons had 10 and Vicki Baugh grabbed 10 rebounds.
Though the Lady Bulldogs (12-3, 1-1) have had four players put up double-digit scoring in the past three games, Meredith Mitchell was the only one to do it against Tennessee with 14 points. Hassell, who had averaged 16.1 points in Georgia’s 10 previous games, had just eight.
The Lady Vols finished with a 52-32 rebounding advantage, outscored the Lady Bulldogs 42-12 in the paint and hit 20 of 28 at the free-throw line.
“We just didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t get back. We didn’t rebound. We didn’t fight, and that’s where the game turned for us for the worse.”
Massengale took control for the Lady Vols early. When she wasn’t driving to through the lane for a layup or shooting 3s she was dishing the ball to her teammates for layups of their own. Massengale scored at the hoop with 13:36 in the first half to give Tennessee a 17-6 lead.
Armstrong answered with a 3-pointer and a jumper for Georgia, and James hit a shot a few minutes later to cut the margin to 20-16.
Massengale responded, pulling up at the free-throw lane to hit a shot, and Simmons sank a 3 in front of the Georgia bench to push Tennssee’s lead back to eight points, where it would hover for most of the rest of the half.
Tennessee hasn’t dropped an SEC game since a 53-50 loss at Georgia on Jan. 21, 2010. Since then the Lady Vols have won 35 conference games, sweeping last year’s league schedule, and have earned two SEC regular season and tournament titles.
“I didn’t realize we’d won 35 games in a row,” Warlick said. “This team, we put a lot of value on going to the Final Four and competing for a national championship. Sometimes what we do in the SEC gets kind of put aside, but it’s amazing to me that this group has done what they’ve done.”