Lady Vols rout Tar Heels, 102-57

The Lady Vols beat the Tar Heels at their own game Sunday, affirming the style Holly Warlick wants to play this season. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis.

Assistant coach Jolette Law, who prepared the scout for the matchup against North Carolina, said the team that prevailed on the boards and had the fewest turnovers would win the game.

She was correct.

Tennessee (6-1) dominated North Carolina (7-1) on the scoreboard, 102-57. The Lady Vols also won the glass battle, 54-40, and had fewer turnovers, 20 to 30 for the Tar Heels.

North Carolina converted the Lady Vol miscues into 16 points. Tennessee more than doubled that output with 36 points off Tar Heel turnovers.

The Lady Vols also got career offensive efforts from two players - Meighan Simmons notched 33 points and Isabelle Harrison tallied 18.

Simmons was smoking from the start of the game and shot 9-11 in the first half for 22 points before the break.

Whatever she ate, drank, did last night, she's got to do that again every game," Coach Holly Warlick said. "I'm going to make sure of it."

Simmons credited a higher power in the post-game press conference and said she prayed Sunday morning for guidance.

"To be honest, I give the credit to God," Simmons said. "I woke up this morning and was in a different mindset. I wanted to go out and play my hardest, because I knew what was coming at me. I got up this morning and prayed.

" … I need to continue to play that way and continue to play under control. I have to stay focused and stay within the system of University of Tennessee basketball."

It was a game that Simmons had highly anticipated because the Tar Heels were the first team that would run with Tennessee. Both teams wanted a track meet, and the 11,342 fans in attendance at Thompson-Boling Arena were delighted from tip to final buzzer.

"It was awesome," Warlick said. "It was a great team effort. We talked about playing as a team before the game, and you can look on the stats and understand it was a team effort.

"We had several people score in double figures. We had 21 assists. So when you have 21 assists, you're sharing the basketball."

Ariel Massengale delivered seven of those helpers - what should be known as a "Mass Pass" - and managed the game on both ends. She got the ball to the scorers and got back on defense.

The sophomore was 0-4 from the field but 3-4 from the line and surrendered the ball just twice in 30 minutes on the floor. Massengale also had a steal and grabbed three rebounds.

She also is Warlick's eyes and ears on the court.

"We just have a good connection," Warlick said. "We talk about what we should run. I want her to give me suggestions, because she's on the floor. That's what Pat used to allow me to do, give suggestions. Whether the head coach takes them or not is another thing."

Warlick got a huge hug from Pat Summitt after the game, as it was a huge win for Tennessee. The Tar Heels were ranked and had been playing stingy defense. It also was Tennessee's first nationally televised game of the season so for many folks it was the first chance to get a look at Warlick in her new role as head coach.

Warlick made good use of her bench as she went eight deep in double-digit minutes and got lengthy contributions from two starters – 35 minutes from Simmons and 30 from Massengale.

The two guards were hard to take out – Simmons was offensively energized and Massengale was managing the game so well.

The two also had to make up for the loss of freshman guard Andraya Carter, who reinjured her right shoulder right before halftime and spent the second half on the bench with an ice bag attached to the shoulder. Carter was officially listed as day to day, but the reoccurrence of the injury raises a red flag about the stability of the shoulder.

When Tennessee started slow in the second half, Warlick got a quick timeout at the 16:42 mark - North Carolina had trimmed the halftime lead of 50-28 to 52-36 - and the Lady Vols responded by getting the ball inside to Harrison. Within five minutes the lead was 20 points and mushrooming to the final 45-point margin.

"I'm disappointed we didn't make a better showing, but it's early," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. " … We didn't start well. I think four of our first five possessions we had turnovers. It's early; we're not going to slow down. We're just going to get better. … Tennessee played a great game. They couldn't have shot probably much better than they did."

The Lady Vols shot 48.1 percent for the game with Simmons shooting 54.5 percent. Better yet, Warlick liked every one of the shots that Simmons took. That wasn't always the case in her first two years on campus, but the junior is playing within the team concepts and is better on both sides of the ball.

"Obviously, Meighan is an amazing player and an amazing scorer, so when she is taking great shots and was on fire is great for her, but it helps everybody," senior Taber Spani said.

"It helps our posts; it helps our guards. When they have to start to key so much on her, it opens it up for everyone else. In the second half, you could see that. For her to go off like she did, we're so proud of her, and she works so hard in practice. It's huge."

Spani was on the court 90 minutes before tipoff and was draining shots from the arc. She hit her first two three balls Sunday and finished with 10 points, four boards, two assists, two steals and no turnovers in 14 minutes of play.

The outcome was surprising - not the win so much as the final score - because of how the Lady Vols had struggled Thursday with Middle Tennessee. Perhaps Tennessee had looked past the Blue Raiders for a lighter hue of blue. Clearly, they were ready for Sunday's game.

"I think our intensity was a lot better," Spani said. "In the future, we want to get to a point where we stay consistent for every game. Middle Tennessee was a mini wake-up call, and I think our intensity and energy wasn't as consistent as we wanted it to be.

"Right from the get go, everyone who started came in with intensity and energy. I think that's the difference between us playing a game like this and playing Middle Tennessee or Chattanooga."

It was the best possible outcome for the Lady Vols as they now will focus on final exams and practice time with the coaches, who are bound to be in a good mood with the win rather than two weeks to stew on a loss.

"It's always good to end on a win, especially because it puts our coaches in a good mood going to practice," Harrison said. "We're just going to take it as it is and keep practicing. There are more opponents that we have to face and there's some good competition, so we just need to keep moving forward."

Tennessee has a gauntlet of teams on tape - two Final Four teams in Baylor and Stanford and a much-improved Texas squad.

For now, the Lady Vols will get back to practice with the knowledge that they can play the style they want - up-tempo against an athletic team.

"We're a North Carolina type of team; they've always been push-push-push, and we're trying to be that," Spani said. "We've established that these first seven games.

"It was huge; it was a great confidence builder. It told us we can go up against a team that is like ourselves, very athletic and up-tempo-and do what we did against them. They're a very good team and very talented, it says a lot for our performance."

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