Lady Vols sprint past Ole Miss

Cierra Burdick vs. Ole Miss

The Lady Vols high-octane offense was on display Sunday with a 97-68 win over Ole Miss. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis and video coverage.

After a heart-stopping win over LSU earlier this week Tennessee (19-5, 10-1) treated its fans to a 97-68 romp over Ole Miss (8-15, 1-9), though not without a few first-half lapses that coach Holly Warlick noted but also accepted responsibility for because of how fast Tennessee wants to play.

"We started playing too fast and they just need to keep valuing the basketball because we work so hard to get it," Warlick said. "We wanted to play and some of it is my fault … because I'm allowing people to come up and (handle) the ball in traffic and I'll take the blame for those."

Credit should also go to the effort of Ole Miss, a team that lost its head coach to start the season because of NCAA violations and has self-imposed a postseason ban.

"Just keeping our heads up," Ole Miss forward Danielle McCray said. "We have to come out and fight for each other every time we play. That's who we play for is each other."

The Rebels wore warm-up shirts that read on the back: "We all we got. We all we need."

"We kind of just made it up really," Ole Miss guard Diara Moore said. "At the end of the day we're 11 strong. So, really we're all we got. We're all we need. So, we come out every day. We're really fighting for each other like Danielle said."

The Rebels didn't despair when the Lady Vols opened the game by draining shots and took a 17-point lead, 24-7, midway through the first half.

Instead, Ole Miss pulled to within five points, 28-23, with 5:52 to play before the break.

"I think we did a good job of trying to capitalize off of their mistakes," Ole Miss coach Brett Frank said. "We're a transition team as well, and I think we're best in the open court.

"I feel like our players did a good job of making transition off their miscues."

The Lady Vols scorched the nets when they had the ball - they shot 51.6 percent in the first and 66.7 percent in the second - but they also surrendered it 11 times before the break and 20 times overall.

Ole Miss converted those miscues into a total of 20 points.

"The ones I have a hard time with are when we throw the ball right to the defense," Warlick said. "Those are the things we have to clean up."

The Lady Vols did indeed do that as quite a few errors were unforced and the result of poor passes, but still, the Lady Vols led 40-27 at halftime and after starting the second half with a turnover and missed jumper, they scored on three jumpers in 39 seconds and steadily built the lead.

Within six minutes, the Lady Vols were up 57-40, and Frank wanted a timeout.

Jasmine Jones swiped the ball out of the break, and Kamiko Williams found Taber Spani for a three and a 60-40 lead.

Ole Miss was willing to run with Tennessee, and the crowd of 11,727 wanted 100 points - the fans implored Williams to head down court in the final seconds but she dribbled out the clock - so they had to settle on 97 and double-digit scoring by five players, including two off the bench.

Nia Moore went 4-5 from the field - including a layup in stride on a fast break on a feed from Meighan Simmons - and 4-4 from the line for 12 points in 10 minutes.

"Nia is really coming around," Warlick said. "In practice, she's done a lot of individual work, which I think has helped her."

Moore clearly has the support of her teammates. The bench exploded when she scored in transition, and fellow freshman Bashaara Graves smiled when asked a post-game question about her fellow post.

"I think it gives her a lot of confidence," Graves said. "Nia's been working very hard in practice every day, and for her to come out and get 12 points in 10 minutes will boost her confidence.

"We need her now, so she's trying to step up for the team and she's doing the team good."

Graves would welcome the help. Since Isabelle Harrison exited with a knee injury against Notre Dame, Graves has been the primary option in the paint.

Graves was 6-8 from the field and 7-7 from the line for 19 points. She also grabbed 11 boards - four on offense - and is now tied with Tamika Catchings for fourth on Tennessee's all-time freshman double-doubles list with nine.

McCray, a sophomore forward for Ole Miss had the task of handling Graves inside. She noted the strength of Graves, an unusual attribute for a freshman. Spani has to deal with Graves at practice sometimes, and she also can feel the power.

"Her physical strength is one of her best attributes," Spani said. "She knows how to use her body more than anything. It's crazy.

"I think it helps us into February with her being so strong; her legs aren't feeling it as much. She has the endurance and durability built in. We rely on her a lot."

Spani is certainly feeling it - the senior's bad back had her moving gingerly at times Sunday, but she wants to be on the court - and even Graves is ready for the week between games.

Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons tosses in two of her team-leading 24 points.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

The Lady Vols are off until next Sunday when Vanderbilt comes to Knoxville for a 5 p.m. tipoff and the "Think Pink, Bleed Orange" game.

"I'm going to be taking a couple ice baths this week just to get my body back for the Vandy game and to get ready for the next week of playing," Graves said.

Simmons played 40 minutes against LSU and 31 on Sunday. She could likely play another game as soon as one ends. But even the junior speedster welcomes a mini-break, as the Lady Vols will get two off days this week.

"Honestly, yes," Simmons said. "My body has been really tight a lot lately. I'm glad that I have the opportunity to focus on school for a minute.

"February is the month when everything is coming fast and the season is coming quick. Everybody needs to take care of their bodies and eat right and make sure we're taking care of business."

Simmons led all scorers with 24 points on 10-18 shooting. She also had five boards and three assists. Simmons thrives in the open court and Ole Miss being willing to run delighted the speedy Simmons.

"It makes it fun," Simmons said. "The coaches were telling us that we needed to run at them as well. … You have to continue to play intense defense. We may have to make some adjustments on that, but it makes the game fun. The crowd got into it."

Ole Miss should be complimented for its willingness to fight, especially after the way the Lady Vols opened the game. Three players reached double digits - Moore with 16, McCray with 11 and Gracie Frizzell with 12. The Rebels attacked the paint area - they got 32 points there compared to 46 for Tennessee - and didn't let up even as Tennessee put the game well out of reach in the second half.

Frank complimented Tennessee on its ability to prepare scouting reports and said he intentionally went to a zone defense that the Rebels had rarely shown previously.

"We really have not been a zone team all year and thought we would come out and play some more aggressive possessions defensively with our zone," Frank said. "I do think it got them out of a little bit of a rhythm."

It did indeed but the Lady Vols shot 59.4 percent for the game, which will put a team back in rhythm rather quickly. Simmons led the way with her 24 points, followed by Graves at 19, Spani and Moore with 12 each and Kamiko Williams with 11.

Williams got a rousing cheer when she entered the game. The senior overcame a severely sprained ankle to play at LSU - her presence on both ends was critical for the road win - and was 5-7 from the field Sunday with five assists and zero turnovers.

Ariel Massengale led the way with eight assists - she now has 110 assists on the season with Williams the next closest at 65 - as the team totaled 23 helpers on 38 made baskets.

It was an unselfish display of basketball as players made the extra passes to get better looks for teammates.

"For the most part I think they understand what is a good shot and a bad shot," Warlick said. "We don't take a lot of bad shots. They are very skilled offensive players."

Spani was asked after the game about scoring Sunday after not doing so against LSU. She seemed almost startled by the question.

"We're not stat-sheet readers," Spani said. "This team has always been about ‘team,' and we stress that day-in and day-out.

"In saying that, we understand that everybody has their role. Everyone knows that they need to score for this team and shoot the ball. Bashaara can go to work and we can open it up. Meighan knows the same thing.

"Us being able to run is our bread and butter."

That approach has Tennessee atop the SEC standings with five games remaining for a team picked to finish fifth by the SEC coaches. Those same coaches have sounded similar in post-game press conferences this season - tremendous praise for Warlick for how she has the team playing this season.

"They're a very well-coached team," Frank said. "They're a youthful team, but they're showing a lot of experience. These players have been tested early in the season. They've played one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, and it's definitely paying off for them.

"I expect them to do great things in the postseason. I know that's something that you understand and have come to expect from them.

"Again, I think that Holly came into a tough situation. It goes without saying, and she's done a phenomenal job in molding this young group and steering them in the right direction."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Game highlights from utsportstv

Holly Warlick breaks down win

Taber Spani, Meighan Simmons, Bashaara Graves

Ole Miss coach Brett Frank, Diara Moore, Danielle McCray

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