No. 4 Tennessee had an outright SEC regular-season championship up for grabs on Monday night.
With the No. 22 Georgia Lady Bulldogs visiting Thompson-Boling Arena, the Lady Vols claimed that title — and they did it in style.
Tennessee used a dominating, yet balanced, performance to outman visiting Georgia 77-44 on Monday night, grabbing the outright regular-season SEC title along the way.
"I thought our team had great focus coming out of the locker room," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. "Sometimes you can read that, other times you can't. I was very, very pleased with how we took the court."
Meighan Simmons led UT (26-2, 14-0 SEC) with 14 points, and Taber Spani and Shekinna Stricklen each added 11. Tennessee shot 50 percent (31-62) from the field while holding Georgia to 26 percent shooting on the night.
Jasmine James paced Georgia (20-7, 10-4) with 11 points.
Summitt said the regular-season title is always the understood goal before tournament time.
"I tell them all the time, you haven't won anything," Summitt said. "I think it was important for them to be able to clinch this. I feel like that maturity overall has allowed us to be very focused but also very confident.
"We want to stay that way."
The Lady Vols started out hot from the perimeter. Simmons — who led UT in the first half with eight points — hit two 3-pointers early to boost Tennessee's lead, 6-2, less than two minutes into the contest.
A Vicki Baugh layup and free throw put UT up 15-7 at the 13:38 mark when Angie Bjorklund checked into the contest for Tennessee. Bjorklund scored three points in 11 minutes in her first action since Jan. 23 while nursing an ankle injury.
Tennessee's zone defense stifled the Lady Bulldogs throughout the contest. The Lady Vols outrebounded Georgia 22-18 and held it to only 24 percent shooting before halftime. The strategy to go zone against the Lady Bulldogs paid dividends for Summitt and her coaching staff.
"We talked about it as a staff, and (associate head coach) Holly (Warlick) really felt in the end that that would be our best defense," Summitt said. "I think it was clearly our best defense. Our size and our length made a big difference."
A Baugh layup with 1:30 left until halftime gave UT its largest lead of the first half, 38-18. Tennessee headed into the locker room leading 40-21.
But Tennessee did not let up in the second half. A Taber Spani 3-pointer with 15:30 remaining swelled the Lady Vol lead to 51-21, and a Spani jump shot with 4:22 left gave UT its largest lead of the game, 70-33.
"I think just from the past couple of games, our depth and our bench has really, really stepped up," Simmons said. "I think today with the different lineups, we've all started to build a chemistry with each other."
Johnson entered the Tennessee record books midway through the second half. With a free throw at the 13:19 mark, the junior became the 36th Lady Vol to score 1,000 career points.
"I didn't expect it," Johnson said. "And I just know I have to thank my teammates."
The Lady Vols dominated the post game, outrebounding Georgia 49-33 and winning the battle of points in the paint 28-10. Despite the offensive output, Tennessee was shoddy from the free-throw line, converting only 9-of-17 attempts on the evening.
"I think just battling the boards the way we did," Summitt said. "Overall, it was a pretty complete effort on the part of our team. We had only 12 turnovers, and the bench gave us 26 points.
"I like the depth. It's important we get a lot of people involved. That's exactly what happened for us."
The Lady Vols travel to Oxford, Miss., to take on Ole Miss on Thursday at 7 p.m.
'Live Pink, Bleed Orange'
The contest served as UT's "Live Pink, Bleed Orange" game for breast cancer awareness, with the Lady Vols donning special pink jerseys. The game had added meaning for those within the Tennessee family, as former Lady Vol player Melissa McCray-Dukes lost her battle with breast cancer on Dec. 27. She was 43 years old.
"Couldn't help but think about No. 35 in Melissa McCray-Dukes," Summitt said. "She was a great player here, helped us hang two banners. She left such a mark on us in such a positive way as an individual."