The Rebels, however, are capable of staying with teams – they have athletic guards, an inside scorer and a long-range shooter – but they run out of steam in the second half.
The Lady Vols don't have that issue, though head coach Holly Warlick may say it was because they played in spurts for too many stretches of the first half.
"We played uninspired at times," said Warlick, though she will take the win and Tennessee's hold on second place right behind South Carolina. "We've got to get better."
Warlick was referring specifically to defense, and the Lady Vols were a tad baffling on that side of the ball. They were slow to react in the zone and, at times, nearly standing in place for rebounds.
A couple of factors were in play, including senior Meighan Simmons being under the weather. She was out of sync early – her shot was well off at times – but she regrouped to tally 20 points, including back-to-back threes in the second half to give Tennessee some separation. She also distributed the ball well with five assists.
The second factor was the tip time – 9 p.m. Eastern. It is the second time the Lady Vols have tipped late this season on the road. The third time will be Monday at home against Vanderbilt.
When Mickey Dearstone asked Isabelle Harrison if she liked the late tipoff, she was blunt.
"Not at all," said Harrison, who noted it was now past her bedtime. "Your body doesn't feel as awake as it should be."
The team plane will land at 2 a.m. Friday, and Harrison said "8 o'clock classes are not going to be fun."
There is nothing about these tip times that take into consideration the student part of student-athlete, but television buys the rights and sets the contracts, so they aren't going away.
The Lady Vols have been efficient in their zone and man defenses of late, but they were anything but against Ole Miss. Defenders were slow to recover and even slower to react to rebounds.
Still, Harrison offered no excuses.
"We are definitely capable of playing better, especially on defense," Harrison said.
Tennessee led 37-28 at halftime and after a turnover 30 seconds into the second half, Warlick called a timeout. The Lady Vols were in better sync for the final 19 minutes, but it took a surge, led by Simmons, Harrison and Cierra Burdick to get decent separation from Ole Miss.
"We're not as committed on the defensive end," Warlick said. "We get excited on the offensive end."
That is understandable because Tennessee can score. Simmons, who got her 100th win as a Lady Vol, led the team with 20 points. Harrison followed with 18 points and was 8-11 from the field. She completed the double-double with 11 boards.
Burdick reached double figures with 12 points and added eight boards. The junior forward also brought energy to the team and was part of the flurry of offense that took a close game to a 15-point lead within a few minutes.
"You see what they can do," Warlick said.
The Lady Vols had 14 assists – Simmons and Jasmine Jones combined for eight of them – and shot 18-21 (85.7 percent) from the line. Tennessee connected on seven treys with Simmons hitting four and one each from Jones, Jordan Reynolds and Andraya Carter.
Ole Miss got offense from four starters in double figures, led by 23 points from Tia Faleru. But the Lady Vols bench outscored their Rebel counterparts, 18-2.
Tennessee won the glass battle, 43-34, with a 21-8 advantage on second-chance points. Bashaara Graves grabbed seven boards for the Lady Vols with six on the defensive end.
The box score lists eight steals for Tennessee – though zero for Carter, who had at least one after intercepting a pass and came up with another off a deflection – and zero blocks.
Tennessee essentially did enough to win, and that's not good enough for Warlick, especially on defense. She wants more stops on that end of the court.
"We had enough to hang on and win the game," Warlick said.
In this case, Tennessee will take the win and get back home. After spending a considerable amount of time on the road lately, the Lady Vols are home for three straight games against Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Auburn before going to Missouri and LSU, the last road games of the regular season.
The Lady Vols didn't play their best basketball overall, but they claimed two road wins this week and still control where they finish in the standings.
Tennessee also had its depth at point guard on display. Junior point guard Ariel Massengale missed her fourth straight game because of a facial injury. Redshirt freshman Andraya Carter has started in her absence and performed well, but she was hindered by foul trouble against Ole Miss.
True freshman Jordan Reynolds tallied seven points, grabbed three boards and added two assists – neither freshman had a turnover – in 29 minutes of play. That preparation happens in practice, and Reynolds has clearly been getting ready to play, as has Carter. That speaks to the work ethic of the freshmen and the commitment by the staff to make sure the youngsters were put in situations to get them ready.
The third freshman, Mercedes Russell, also had a solid game with six points and seven boards. She has an effect on the defensive end that doesn't always appear in the box score, as she affected several Ole Miss shooters whose offerings took a different trajectory when they encountered Russell at the rim.
Tennessee will have the weekend to get ready for Vanderbilt, a game in which the Lady Vols are seeking redemption. Tennessee had the lead midway through the second half in Nashville last month and then Harrison was whistled for a fourth foul and a technical foul. The Lady Vols surrendered the lead after she departed and lost the game.
"That's been on my mind the entire time, to be honest," Harrison said.
It's another late tip, but at least this time Tennessee will be on its home court.
Game highlights via utsportstv
Jordan Reynolds, Meighan Simmons, Isabelle Harrison