The sophomore had just completed a court session Monday afternoon at Stanford's practice facility, which is adjacent to Maples Pavilion, that lasted just under two hours and allowed the Lady Vols to go over the scouting report, get some shots lofted - especially from the free throw line - and work on their offensive and defensive schemes.
No. 6 Tennessee (7-2) takes on No. 4 Stanford (7-1) at 10 p.m. Eastern time (Fox SportSouth/Comcast Sports Net) on Tuesday before breaking for the holidays.
The Lady Vols lost freshman point guard Ariel Massengale the day before they left Knoxville for New York to begin the cross-country four-game road trek. Simmons and Shekinna Stricklen have tag-teamed at point guard and led Tennessee to a 3-0 record with wins over No. 20/21 DePaul, No. 11 Rutgers and UCLA.
Against UCLA, Stricklen was ill with a stomach disorder and missed part of the first half trying to recover in the locker room. The Lady Vols won 85-64 and when the pace got a little too fast and the ball a little too loose late in the second half, it was Simmons' who grabbed the ball near Tennessee's bench and instead of heading to the basket, she reversed to the top of the court and told the team to calm down.
"At a certain point and time in the game if we're up by a certain amount of points and we're turning the ball over or we're running too fast or we're making bad passes, I feel like that's the time that we need to slow down and say, ‘Hey, we have the lead, we have to take control of the game,' " Simmons said.
The play happened on the sideline right in front of Tennessee's bench, and the coaches were in Simmons' ear to get the ball and slow it down. She immediately did so.
"She had a little help from the bench," Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss said with a smile. "But she listened. She had that feel that we were getting a little out of whack."
"We're in control of the game, but we have to keep control of the game," Simmons noted.
Simmons is back to her old self - smiling and confident - and she was under control and shooting well in Monday's session. The road trip began with Simmons in a mighty slump, but she has shot 52.8 percent over the past three games and tallied 40 points.
"It's boosted my confidence a lot," Simmons said. "I thank God for letting me get a second wind. I am not stressing about school. I am more focused on ball now and being able to get my energy back and get what I usually do done.
"This has really been a confidence booster for me."
It was a welcome shift for the coaching staff to see the sophomore slump come to an end.
"She's out of the spell," DeMoss said. "I said, ‘The spell looks like it's been broken.' She goes, ‘I know, I know!' She is back to where she was."
Massengale returned to practice Monday at Stanford, and Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick and DeMoss said Massengale could possibly be available off the bench.
"It will be a game-time decision," DeMoss said. "I am sure we will need her, but she's got to be healthy to play in a game like this. It would expose her like that if she's not healthy."
In the meantime, the coaches were just happy to see Massengale back on the court.
"It was nice," Warlick said. "She is maybe there if we need her. I think they are kind of going day by day."
The good news for Tennessee is that it appears Massengale will be full go after the Christmas break.
Tennessee hosts Old Dominion on Dec. 28 and then starts SEC play at Auburn on Jan. 1.
Simmons' role changes with Massengale able to run the point, and the key for the sophomore is to stay within herself as she has done on the road trip. Her decision making and shot selection have been outstanding.
"I have to do the same thing," Simmons said. "I have to be mindful about my choices and what I do, when to shoot and when not to shoot, when to pass and when to drive.
"I have to work with her and making sure I am helping her as well, reading the defense, making the easy shots and being smart with the ball."
The coaching staff is thrilled with Simmons' approach on the court, as she has taken good shots within the offense and has been willing to diversify her game by getting to the rim.
"We're real pleased," DeMoss said. "When she starts at the point, they've got to guard all five people. They've got to respect all five people."
Simmons and Stricklen have meshed well on the court and have shared the point guard duties - with assist from Taber Spani, as well - while Massengale recuperated from a Dec. 9 practice injury in which she dislocated the middle finger of her left hand while trying to scoop up a loose ball.
Stricklen has been a bona fide All-American this season and leads the team in scoring at 16.2 points per game while hitting 45.4 percent of her shots overall and 46.5 percent from long range. The senior guard/forward/post is the second-leading rebounder with 7.9 boards per game, leads the team in steals with 14and also has seven blocks. Stricklen has played on the perimeter and in the paint for Tennessee and reached double figures in all nine games.
"Honestly, I thank God," Stricklen said when asked why her overall game - offense and defense - has taken such a leap in her senior year. "I am using the gift he blessed me with and being more comfortable. My teammates have my back and believe in me.
"Being able to step up as a leader for this team and having the energy from the get-go of the game. But then having other people stepping up. That is one thing I really love about this team. We are really starting to play as a team, and everyone is coming in and doing their job."
With the team on the road since Dec. 10 - they were home for one day after the New York-New Jersey swing before heading west to California - the Lady Vols don't have a male practice squad so they go against each other on the court.
"Strick is awesome," fifth-year senior forward Vicki Baugh said. "She can play every position. She is so versatile. I don't think there is anyone that can stop her.
"When we are guarding each other in practice and I am guarding her I am like, ‘Yeah, no wonder you are so good. Strick, you are so good. You can shoot the ball. You can post up.' It's easier to count the things that she can't do, because there are none."
This is a home game for Baugh, who will head to Sacramento by vehicle after the game while her teammates dash to the airport. Baugh's extended family will be at the game, and she will get to see Max, her Miniature Pinscher, when she gets to her house.
"I miss my family," Baugh said. "Max is the only one who's not going to get the chance to come to the game. I am going to be racing home to see him. Everyone is going to be at the Stanford game.
"It's very nice I just get to ride home with my cousins. They're so goofy, and I know they're going to come home with me. It's just going to be fun. It's going to be a fun car ride. It's going to be awesome to be with my family."
Stricklen will be making the air trek to Morrilton, Arkansas - not Morrilton, Arizona, as she was accidentally introduced at Rutgers during the pre-game announcement of starting lineups.
"I didn't hear it," Stricklen said with a laugh.
Stricklen and her teammates hope to get an early Christmas present with a win over Stanford. Tennessee last won at Maples Pavilion in 2005, which was Candace Parker's redshirt freshman year. Road losses followed in 2007 and 2009, when Stricklen was a sophomore, while Tennessee held serve at home in 2008 and 2010.
"That is our last game before we get to go home for Christmas," Stricklen said. "We know we are going to have to come ready to play that game and we know if we win that game we will have a great Christmas at home with our family."
Tennessee Coach Pat Summitt is expected to start: Meighan Simmons, 5'9 sophomore guard, No. 10 (10.1 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game); Taber Spani, 6'1 junior guard/forward, No. 13 (12.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg); Shekinna Stricklen, 6'2 senior guard/forward, No. 40 (16.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg); Glory Johnson, 6'3 senior forward, No. 25 (13.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg); and Vicki Baugh, 6'4 redshirt senior forward/center, No. 21 (9.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer is expected to start: Lindy LaRocque, 5'8 senior guard, No. 15 (6.1 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 2.6 assists per game), hails from Las Vegas, Nev., missed the Nov. 30 game against UC Davis with a right foot injury, had a season-high 15 points against Old Dominion by connecting on five three-pointers, father Alan played basketball at Long Beach City College and Cal Poly-Pomona; Jasmine Camp, 5'7 freshman guard, No. 23 (3.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg), hails from Ellenwood, Ga., made first collegiate start at Xavier, scored 14 points against Connecticut and connected on three treys, named Metro Atlanta Basketball Player of the Year by the Atlanta Tip-Off Club as a senior, father Keith played football, basketball and baseball at Savannah State, two older brothers played college baseball, Kevin at Grambling State, Kenny at Georgia State; Taylor Greenfield, 6'3 freshman forward, No. 4 (4.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg), hails from Huxley, Iowa, logged 32 minutes against Connecticut, season-high nine points against Texas, also played golf and volleyball and ran track in high school; Chiney Ogwumike, 6'3 sophomore forward, No. 13 (15.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg), hails from Cypress, Texas, tallied seven points against Tennessee last season in Knoxville, grabbed career high 16 boards this season against Fresno State, scored career high 21 points last Saturday against Princeton, standout volleyball player in high school; and Nnemkadi Ogwumike, 6'2 senior forward, No. 30 (23.7 ppg, 11.1 rpg), hails from Cypress, Texas, tallied double-double against Tennessee last season with 20 points, 10 rebounds, tallied a season-high 34 points against Xavier, put up 33 points and grabbed 18 rebounds against Gonzaga, captain of basketball and volleyball teams in high school, like her sister, a standout volleyball player, too.
A key player for Stanford is Toni Kokenis, a 5'11 sophomore guard from Oak Brook, Ill., who has started seven of eight games this season and leads the team with 26 assists.
Newcomer Amber Orrange, a 5'7 freshman guard from Houston, Texas, has appeared in all eight games this season and is second on the team with 22 assists.
Joslyn Tinkle, a 6'3 junior forward from Missoula, Montana, has one start on the season and averages 7.5 points and 4.9 rebounds a game.
The size keeps coming with Sarah Boothe, a 6'5 redshirt junior from Gurnee, Ill., and Bonnie Samuelson, a 6'3 freshman forward from Huntington Beach. Calif. Boothe and Samuelson both logged minutes in seven games this season.
SUMMITT SITUATION: Pat Summitt, who announced before the season that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia, missed Monday's practice session because of a consultation appointment.
Several media members from the Bay Area were present for interviews after the Lady Vols' practice and, as expected on the road, the topic was Summitt.
The consultation had already been scheduled for this trip.
"She'll be at the game," Holly Warlick said with a laugh when that was the follow-up question about Summitt. "She's fine. It was something she wanted to go do."
Warlick has stepped to the forefront to handle the media, and she was asked how the staff balances basketball duties with being the public face in the sport for Alzheimer's Awareness.
"I have learned to take one day at a time," Warlick said. "I think different days throw different things at me. I've learned so much from Pat, and I know she used to multitask so she forced all of us to multitask.
"I just go on her knowledge and her strength and hope my knowledge, what I've learned from her, has carried on and will continue to carry on with this team."
Warlick saluted the players for how well and how quickly they have adjusted to the bombshell news they got last August that a woman they thought was indestructible had been diagnosed with dementia.
"They've accepted it," Warlick said. "And they listen to all of us. It's not like, ‘Well, the head coach isn't here (Monday), so we're not going to play hard.' "
It was the opposite in fact - the team was focused and the staff complimented the players on a job well done.
"I think the kids have a lot of respect for our staff, and that helps," Warlick said. "You've got to have good kids, and we have great kids. They are very supportive obviously of Pat and appreciative of what we're doing."
The confirmed diagnosis by the Mayo Clinic of Summitt's condition, while startling to say the least, also provided a game plan, as it were.
"I think when she found that out it was almost like a relief for her first off," Warlick said. "And then when she told everybody and made it public that was a major burden off her shoulders, because she knew she couldn't hide something that was very personal to her.
"She wanted to make sure everybody knew what she was doing with it, get it out there and let's move on. She's put a face on dementia. It's incredible. You have a face with that disease, and she's still working. She's amazing. Absolutely amazing.
"That's what she's done all her life. She's always put everything out there. I wouldn't expect anything less."
SCOUTING REPORT: Assistant Coach Mickie DeMoss handled the scouting report for the Tennessee-Stanford game. Here is her assessment.
Offensively, the Cardinal rely on Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Chiney Ogwumike, who combine for nearly 40 points and 21.5 rebounds a game.
"They like to get it to the Ogwumike sisters," DeMoss said. "They account for almost half of their points. But they've got other guards that I think are just waiting to explode because certain games certain guards have shot the three very well.
"You've got to be careful helping off of too many people to try to help on the Ogwumikes. And then you've got Chiney, the younger sister, she gets a lot of her points off offensive rebounds. As far as scouting is concerned there, we've got to keep a body on her at all times and keep her off the glass."
When Holly Warlick was asked how to handle the Ogwumike sisters, she joked, "Can we play seven people? Put two on them? They're phenomenal. Both of them. They're going to be difficult guards for us."
Defensively, "I have seen a lot of man-to-man in film," De Moss said. "I've seen a few clips of a 2-3 (zone). I think they're going to play scouting report defense.
"I think they're going to play smart. They're going to guard our shooters. They're going to do different things. If it's a penetrator, they're going to play for penetration. They'll have us well scouted.
"We're going to have to execute our offense. We're anticipating man to man, trying to get out in those passing lanes a little bit and disrupt our offense."
Keys for Tennessee: "The number one thing is that we've got to rebound," DeMoss said. "We have got to limit their second chance points, and we've got to be able to create some second chance points."
The Lady Vols also want to set the tone on defense.
"If we can extend our defense a little bit and apply some pressure, (Tennessee can force some turnovers)." DeMoss said. "We've got to be in the mood to press. Everybody has got to be on the same page."
SOLD OUT: Maples Pavilion, with a capacity of 7,723, was sold out in advance and while Pat Summitt has been well received on the road, Tennessee expects a healthy but hostile environment.
The two schools first faced each other in 1988 - Tuesday will be the 29th matchup - and the coaching staffs of both programs have long enjoyed good relationships.
"I think it's one of our biggest rivals absolutely," Holly Warlick said. "We have tough battles with them. It's a healthy rivalry for us. We enjoy playing.
"We enjoy coming out here and especially bringing Vicki Baugh home. It's been nice. It's a tough place to play."
Stanford has been formidable at home, too. The Cardinal have a 67-game win streak at home and snapped Connecticut's 90-game overall win streak a year ago at Maples Pavilion. Stanford hasn't lost in the month of December since 2005 when Tennessee last won in Palo Alto.
The coast-to-coast games have prepared Tennessee well as the Lady Vols got out of the comforts of Thompson-Boling Arena and onto the road.
"Rutgers was a very hostile arena," Mickie DeMoss said. "UCLA, even that little arena, it was pretty packed. I think this environment will compare to Rutgers."
When Glory Johnson was asked what she associated with Stanford basketball, she mentioned the Ogwumikes. The trio know each other - the families have Nigerian roots, which are deeply embedded - and spent time together in China last August for the World University Games with USA Basketball. Shekinna Stricklen also played on the team, which won a gold medal.
"I think of the Ogwumike sisters," Johnson said. "That is what we have to worry about the most. The majority of the time they are getting it to the sisters. If we limit their touches and make it hard for them to score, then I think we'll be a lot more successful."
Warlick has usually handled the Stanford scout, but DeMoss took it, and Warlick said she gladly handed it over.
"I used to scout them and then Mickie came back and she started scouting them thank goodness," Warlick said.
As the Lady Vols were leaving Stanford's practice facility to board the bus back to the team hotel, the Cardinal players were taking the court for their session. The Tennessee coaches stopped to chat with Stanford Coach Tara VanDerveer.
"We just have a tremendous amount of respect for Tara," Warlick said. "She runs a great program. She does things right. We've had a long friendship with her whole staff.
"We will continue to play. They are one of the best teams in the country every year. They get us ready for things. It's been a great rivalry and a great healthy rivalry for us."
SEC PLAY: Two other SEC teams are in action Tuesday evening in the following matchups: Charleston Southern at Florida; and Georgia vs. Montana State in the Las Vegas Holiday Hoops Classic.
ODDS AND ENDS
Tennessee leads the series with Stanford, 22-6. The Lady Vols are 5-5 in Palo Alto and have lost the last two on the road versus the Cardinal. … Tennessee is 9-0 in games played on December 20. The last win on this date was against West Virginia, 66-51, in 2006, a game in which Candace Parker dunked at home for the first time. The first win on December 20 came against Hawaii Pacific, 130-38, in 1985. … Stanford had a 13-day break between games to start the month of December because of final exams. The Cardinal won 93-59 at Fresno State on Dec. 4 and then hosted Princeton this past Saturday, an 85-66 win. Stanford's lone loss on the season to date was at Connecticut on Nov. 21. Stanford hosts CSU Bakersfield on Dec. 22 before breaking for the holidays. The Cardinal begins Pac-12 play on Dec. 29 against Southern Cal followed by a Dec. 31 game at UCLA.