Lady Vols 'Back Pat' with SEC win

The Lady Vols bounced back again this season – and showed resilience after the loss of Ariel Massengale to a facial injury shortly before halftime – to claim an SEC win over Florida. Go inside for analysis and video coverage.

Tennessee (15-4, 4-2) secured the 89-69 win over Florida (13-6, 3-3) with torrid long-range shooting from Meighan Simmons, contributions from three freshmen, the return to beast mode of Bashaara Graves, stellar play off the bench from sophomore Jasmine Jones and 27 assists – 15 of which came from two players.

The win also came on short rest – made even shorter by a 6 a.m. film session Wednesday to watch the second half of Monday's loss to Notre Dame – and while coach Holly Warlick was a tad concerned about that, the end result showed the Lady Vols had a lot in the tank.

Redshirt freshman Andraya Carter, who took over point guard duties to start the second half after Ariel Massengale was swiped across the face while securing a steal, went 30 minutes and looked as if she could play another 30 at the end of regulation.

Simmons was all smiles in the post-game press conference and looked at ease, the result of a 5-10 performance from the arc.

Graves, who was 7-8 from the floor and 3-3 from the line, was also upbeat.

Jones drained two treys in the second half and was directly responsible for four of Graves' points with pinpoint passes to the paint.

The Lady Vols had 27 assists on 33 baskets with eight coming from Carter, a career high, and seven dished by Cierra Burdick.

"Great win for us," Warlick said. "Any win is a great win. We did some great things, played together and we talked a lot about that this week.

"Just proud of our effort. We had some great hustle plays and distributed the ball. I know we had some great assists. I can't even think right now. I'm kind of happy on how we played."

Warlick was trying to summon how many baskets in a row were assisted – the answer was all 14 in the first half and the first four baskets in the second half, a rather eye-popping stat. The 19th basket came on a Graves offensive rebound and stick-back.

It was an emotional game for the Lady Vols as it was their "We Back Pat" night and the coaches wore special shirts and T-shirts, as did Florida coach Amanda Butler. She and Warlick presented Pat Summitt with flowers before tipoff.

"I really appreciate the University of Tennessee and the folks here involving me, just letting me walk over there and holler at Pat for a second," said Butler, who hails from Mt. Juliet, Tenn. "She's so special to all of us."

The Lady Vols were properly motivated and opened a 12-point lead, 22-10, eight minutes into the game.

Tennessee led 40-27 at halftime – Massengale was already in the locker room with the facial injury suffered at the 3:55 mark and didn't return to the bench – and Warlick almost wanted to cancel the break because of how well her team had played.

"I debated on whether I wanted to go in at halftime because we kind of get into halftime and take a deep breath and sigh," Warlick said. "But high energy in the locker room."

That was important because of the loss of Massengale – she has a history of concussions but early indications were this mishap didn't fall in that category – and the Lady Vols have shown a tendency at times to tighten up when adversity arrives.

Massengale said in an interview with InsideTennessee on Wednesday that Carter needed to be ready to lead the team.

"The coaches have been getting on her in practice about being vocal and getting the ball," said Simmons, who played point as a freshman and knows the challenges of the position. "So I think that really built her confidence tonight to get out there and lead.

"We trusted her. We were comfortable with her being on the floor, and it just excited me to be able to see her take on that role. I'm very proud of her."

Simmons had patted Carter on the back earlier in the press conference and the freshman was prepared for the post-game questions.

"I talked to Ariel at halftime and told her that we were going to hold it down for her, we were going to take care of business," Carter said. "She's the leader of this team, she's what Dean (Lockwood) says is the head of the snake, and we have to have her back.

"She always has our back in tough games, the one pulling us together and that's the mentality that I had."

Carter ran the team well, tallied 14 points – she swished three long balls – and dished eight assists with two steals. When she picked up a third foul – and her second came rather unfairly when Carter was run over by a Gator and walked gingerly off the court at halftime – freshman Jordan Reynolds entered and handled the point spot.

"Jordan and Andraya had to carry that load," Warlick said. "I think we've prepared them for it and I think they did exceptional."

A third freshman also logged valuable minutes in both halves – Mercedes Russell tallied six points and eight boards. The freshman post remains a work in progress in terms of strength, but she pulled a few boards with considerable authority, backing off the pesky players grabbing for the ball.

After Florida had trimmed the second-half lead to eight points, 56-48, with 11:09 to play – the Lady Vols had led by as much as 19 after the break – the next seven points came from the trio of freshmen. Russell got to the rim, Reynolds hit a jumper, and Carter drained a three-pointer to give the Lady Vols a 63-50 lead that stayed in double digits.

Long-range marksmanship from Jones and Simmons extended the lead with Jones also showing some nifty interior passing to Graves.

"Jasmine was amazing," Graves said. "The coaches know what Jas can do. They keep pushing her in practice to come out and play like she did today.

"We need that from Jas. If she just stays consistent, she can do that for us every game. We believe in her, and she just has to keep going with it."

Graves, who had had nagging back and calf issues, was moving noticeably better in this game and was aggressive on the glass. She also finished at the rim.

"I'm definitely feeling better," Graves said. "My team got me the ball so I got some easy points."

The earlier tip time of 6:30 p.m. and the brutally cold weather – the thermometer said 18 degrees but the wind chill made it feel frozen – didn't affect Tennessee's shooting. The Lady Vols shot 50.8 percent (33-65) from the field and 47.6 percent (10-21) from the arc.

Five Lady Vols reached double figures - Simmons, 21 points; Graves, 17; Carter, 14; Jones, 13; and Isabelle Harrison, 12.

The troubling stat for Warlick was 54.2 percent (13-24) from the line, though Graves and Simmons combined for a perfect 7-7.

"I look at the stats sheet and one thing I know is we've got to get better in our free throw shooting," Warlick said. "That's just a mind-set. We've got to get up to the line and not think that it's a rest, that we're tired, and get up there and get your mind right and make some free throws."

Simmons got two tosses after a technical foul on Florida for having six players on the court. The Gators were trying to insert one player and pull another when the official handed the ball to the in-bounder. That generated the automatic technical.

"We were trying to get one on and get one off, and it didn't work out that way," Butler said.

It was turnovers that did in Florida, as the Lady Vols scored 26 points off 19 Gator miscues. The number was manageable but the situations weren't, as the turnovers created scoring opportunities in transition for Tennessee.

"Our turnovers were just very costly," Butler said. "It's not like we had 30 of them, we ended up with 19, but they were just very timely. Jaterra (Bonds) and Cassie (Peoples) are both very sound ball handlers and decision-makers and of those 19, 10 of them to come from those two guys, that's hard for us to overcome.

"Tennessee's a great team; they're going capitalize if you give them another chance. They're going to take the ball back and make you pay, and they did a great job of that."

Kayla Lewis tallied 14 points for Florida and was able to get to the paint against the Lady Vols, especially when they were in man defense. The zones schemes continue to be stouter for Tennessee, but the team got needed reps in both.

"They're not big but they're athletic and they play hard," Warlick said. "I thought we had to match their intensity, and we had to mix it up on them."

Lewis wore her "We Back Pat" shooting shirt to the post-game press conference.

"Pat Summitt is such an icon for women's basketball and I think we all want to support her," Lewis said. "I have a grandmother who suffers from it, so it's good to have that in the public eye and make people aware of what's happing and try to get research done to try to cure it."

Summitt's foundation was presented with $30,000 in checks from three local organizations, Vol Photos Book, Taste of Turkey Creek and Forget Me Not 5K, before the game began. During the game, she was saluted on the big screen and received a standing ovation. Former Lady Vol assistant coach Mickie DeMoss sat by Summitt in the stands.

The crowd of 10,541was boisterous and, once again, should earn assists with its support. When the second-half lead had dwindled to eight, the crowd, instead of getting restless, got louder with its applause, and the players responded.

"Any win for us right now is huge," Warlick said. "It's a team builder and it's a confidence builder and I thought tonight we got back on track."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Game highlights from utsportstv

Coach Holly Warlick

Bashaara Graves, Andraya Carter, Meighan Simmons

Florida coach Amanda Butler, Kayla Lewis


Inside Tennessee Top Stories