Jasmine Jones emerges in Georgia win

The Lady Vols got career efforts from two freshmen and used a second-half run to scoot past rival Georgia, 79-66. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis.

Coaches have an expression - be careful what you show me.

That now fully applies to Jasmine Jones, whose athleticism in the paint, with the ball and on the boards was on full display Sunday with a career-high 12 points on 5-8 shooting, seven boards - including a defensive one that caused the crowd to gasp at her elevation - four assists and one block.

"Holly told me in the locker room. She said, ‘There's no going back,' " Jones said.

Coach Holly Warlick came to the post-game press conference after the players and basically said just that.

"Today, I thought she played smart, she got huge rebounds for us, hit big baskets for us and that's what we expect from JJ," Warlick said. "That's what we expect from her, that or better. We will not accept anything under that.

"I think it's a matter of her getting comfortable. We know she can do it and we've been tough on her. I think her mom has been a little tough on her as well, but it's tough love.

"Now that's she's shown everybody what she can do, we're holding her accountable for how she played today."

Warlick, her staff and Jones' teammates have seen what the freshman forward is capable of doing. She makes plays in practice and has done enough eye-popping things in that setting that Warlick said she was one of the most athletic players to come to Tennessee.

Bashaara Graves, another precocious freshman affectionately called a beast, doesn't lose her composure in games. She did in the post-game press conference when asked if she had been waiting for this type of game from Jones. She tried to answer, smiled and then started laughing. Her expression said what words didn't - hell, yes.

"I'm so happy," Graves said. "I've been waiting for this for the longest time. I know how good she is and what she can do, so I know this game boosted her confidence a lot. I'm going to expect a lot for the rest of the games."

It was a big win for Tennessee (11-3, 2-0) over Georgia (13-2, 1-1), an archrival in the SEC and a team ahead of the Lady Vols in the polls. The win should vault Tennessee into the top 10 in Monday's AP poll.

It was also a big win for a young team. Freshmen and sophomores accounted for 128 of the 200 available game minutes. Warlick has tried to make a seamless transition from Pat Summitt to this season while inheriting a young team and then losing two starters to injury in Andraya Carter and Cierra Burdick.

A key to that transition has been the fans. Not only have they continued to show up - 12,319 arrived Sunday - but they were raucous and engaged for 40 minutes of game play.

"It helps a lot," Jones said. "When we get defensive stops, it boosts all of our confidences. When we get a steal, the crowd goes crazy. It comes back to help us."

Now, if Warlick can just get her team to play for 40 minutes.

"Can we play a first half?" Warlick said in her opening statement to the media.

The Lady Vols four times were down by six in the first half, the last at 37-31 with 3:51 to play before the break. They went ahead one, 40-39, after Graves drained two free throws with 1:01 left, but Georgia's Khaalidah Miller stroked a three to give her team a 42-40 lead at halftime.

"We get ourselves in a hole, but I was really proud of our effort and us coming back in the second half (of the first half), cutting the lead," Warlick said. "Then, playing like we know we should play the second half. I thought in the first half we gave up too many offensive rebounds, we didn't finish our defense and we weren't running the basketball.

"That has a lot to do with Georgia, they were attacking the glass and then getting back to stop our fast break."

In a game that mirrored the opener at South Carolina, Tennessee played a tight first half - they led the Gamecocks by a point at halftime Thursday and trailed Georgia by two on Sunday - and then opened up the game in the second half.

Both teams shot well in the first half - the Lady Vols at 48.4 percent and the Lady Bulldogs at 42.9 percent - but in the second half Georgia went frigid at 29.0 percent while Tennessee heated up at 50.0 percent.

Once again, the misses on one end followed by the makes on the other took a toll on the opponent, and the Lady Vols outscored Georgia 39-24 after halftime.

"I told you I bottled up what we did at South Carolina and it was a big bottle," Warlick said of her halftime speech. "I opened it up a little bit today. You just challenge them.

"When they're not playing the way I know they can play, you motivate them, so I motivated them a certain way and challenged them.

The rebounding was reversed, too. Georgia had a 20-18 lead on the glass at halftime. Georgia got just nine more in the second half, while Tennessee grabbed 28.

"The rebounding: we're up two at the half and getting drilled, plastered on the boards in the second half," Georgia coach Andy Landers said.

Both teams were piling up points in the first half despite either good or decent defense, minus a breakdown or two, with players simply making shots. Tennessee's misfires on offense were created either by turnovers, mostly unforced, or a good shot that just didn't fall.

"I thought that first half offensively both teams played very, very well in spite of how the other team was trying to defend them," Landers said. "I thought both teams really stayed the course and made plays and made shots and created an offensive game.

"Second half Tennessee continued to do that. We got a lot of shots. We opened the second half by missing two layups and missed a lot of shots. We didn't keep pace with them offensively and then on the other end of the floor defensively couldn't get them slowed down."

Warlick wants her team to play a full game and understandably so. She would definitely prefer her team not fall behind on the scoreboard, especially to open the game. But a look at the box score can explain the difference in the two halves.

The Lady Vols are down two key players with Burdick out for the rest of the month and Carter done for the season. Warlick's rotation is basically seven players.

Landers used 10 players in the first half with none going over 17 minutes and two starters clocking in at 10. Warlick used seven players with Spani going the distance at 20 minutes and three starters logging 18. Isabelle Harrison would have been among them, but first-half foul trouble held her to six minutes.

For the game, only one of Georgia's 11 deployed players went more than 30 minutes and that was Jasmine James at 36. Three Lady Vols starters played extended minutes with Spani at 38, Graves at 36 and Simmons at 34. The fact the team might save a little in the tank and be able to surge in the second half is not surprising.

"I would really like us to play a 40-minute game, for us to start off a lot better," Warlick said. "(But) as a coach, it's about finishing the job, getting the job done. It's not how you start, but how you finish, but I would like to come out of the gates a little faster.

"This team doesn't give up, and as a coach you're excited about that. We got down, but we came back. I love that from us."

The fact the Lady Vols can pick up the pace in the second half and sustain it - the bench help until the final two minutes came from Jones and Kamiko Williams - is also encouraging.

"I think we're fresh at the end," Graves said. "The conditioning is coming back for us. We're in great condition. We're running the ball like we want and getting what we want from offense and defense."

That is a freshman talking, one who said fatigue was an option and not one she would choose, one who was sick at the South Carolina game and still managed nine points and eight boards but chided herself afterwards for not playing better.

"I was a little sick, but I didn't want that to be an excuse of how I played," Graves said. "I knew I was going to come out here and try to do my best."

Her best included a career high 23 points on 8-11 shooting from the field and 7-7 from the line, plus eight boards and two assists. It was the most points scored by a freshman since Meighan Simmons tallied 23 on Stanford in 2010.

Warlick had recruited Graves extensively out of Clarksville, Tenn., but even she is willing to acknowledge some surprise at how good Graves is so soon.

"I knew Bashaara was a very good player, but I didn't know we would get the productivity out of her and her durability," Warlick said. "She just goes about her business and plays the game like it should be played.

"There's not a lot of flash to her game, she just goes to work. I think she has a little Glory (Johnson) in her as far as getting on the block and going to work."

There were Tennessee players all over the court Sunday with Graves and Williams from Clarksville and Harrison from Nashville. Georgia had three Volunteer State natives in its starting lineup with James (Memphis); Shacobia Barbee (Murfreesboro); and Jasmine Hassell (Lebanon) and another off the bench in Marjorie Butler (Knoxville).

"It's definitely a rivalry game for us," said Spani, who tallied 11 points and has boosted her scoring in the absence of Burdick. "They had three Tennessee girls on their team so they wanted to come back, I'm sure.

"It's a great environment to play in. It was a great test for us."

James noted, "I'll say that made it an exciting game, but when you look back at the tradition, Georgia and Tennessee in any year is really an exciting game. That's just something we look forward to."

And while there were Tennessee fingerprints all over game help came from state of Alabama in Jones. It is doubtful Jones was much of a presence on the Georgia scouting report. After displaying her explosive athleticism in early November, she had been quiet for the rest of 2012.

"I think it's a reflection of how poorly we played inside defensively," Landers said. "You had two freshmen there that had career days today. We weren't very good defensively."

That was part of it but Jones also proved to be a difficult guard. She drove to the basket and finished, handled the ball well, hit jumpers and got on the boards.

"Jasmine is so athletic," Spani said. "She reminds people of a mini-Glory with her athleticism and leaping ability. She played with confidence today and bothered their guards out front.

"She went to the boards and her drives are fantastic. We're really proud of her, and we believe that she can give it to us every single game."

The game was a major boost to the confidence of Jones.

"It helps a lot," Jones said. "I haven't been playing to the best of my ability, so to come out here with the encouragement of everybody else helped me believe in myself as much as everybody else does."

Jones can defend in the paint or chase smaller players around the perimeter and that added another dimension to Tennessee's defense.

Graves also had to leave the paint and often was matched up with Anne Marie Armstrong, a 6-3 All-SEC senior who can step out and hit threes or score inside. Armstrong was 3-9 from the field for seven points with Graves tracking her all the way to arc.

The freshmen also held their own in the matchup zone, the principles of which take at least a year to fully grasp.

"It is just another look, and we played a little 2-3 and a little 3-2," Spani said. "We just tried to mix it up and use our length and athleticism.

"Like South Carolina, they were great penetrators, especially Jasmine James. She was really getting into our paint so we tried to clog it up."

Tennessee drew the toughest start in the SEC with a road game against a ranked South Carolina squad and then a home opener against a top 10 Georgia team.

That the Lady Vols open 2-0 in the league with a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores and a rotation of seven with two starters injured speaks well of how fully they have recovered from the back-to-back losses in December to Baylor and Stanford.

"It's extremely reassuring for me that this team is going to fight until the game's over," Warlick said. "They don't give up. They listen to coaching, to listen to what we have to say, and I thought the staff today was huge in our success. While I was up coaching the game, they're back coaching these kids.

"This team is very good at taking the information that we give them and using it out on the court. There's a couple of times today that I drew up things that we haven't run before and they went out and executed. That's a sign of people being in-tune to what you want and going out and doing it on the floor.

"Down the road, that's going to make us a better team."


Game highlights from utsportstv

Coach Holly Warlick

Jasmine Jones, Taber Spani, Bashaara Graves

Coach Andy Landers, Khaalidah Miller, Jasmine James

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