Jasmine Jones chats with IT

The Lady Vols close out the regular season this week on the road at LSU and then at home against South Carolina. InsideTennessee chatted with sophomore Jasmine Jones and the team's lone senior, Meighan Simmons. Go inside for the latest on the team.

No. 10/9 Tennessee (22-5, 11-3) takes on No. 23 LSU (18-9, 7-7) on Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern (TV: CSS) at Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La. It will be Tennessee's four late night tip, and third in league play, in a little over a month.

That will be followed by the season ender at home – though Tennessee will host the early rounds of the NCAA tourney – against South Carolina, which can outright claim the SEC title with a win over Georgia on Thursday.

Sunday's tip time is 2:30 p.m. Eastern (TV: ESPNU), and it will be Senior Day for Meighan Simmons. The guard from Cibolo, Texas, estimated more than 40 family members and friends will be in attendance at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Simmons became an immediate contributor for Tennessee starting with the second game of her college career. She is now just 89 points from 2,000 total points and would become just the fifth Lady Vol to reach that milestone – the others are Tamika Catchings (2,113); Candace Parker (2,137); Bridgette Gordon (2,462); and Chamique Holdsclaw (3,025).

Simmons, who has all kinds of SEC hardware, is hunting her first Final Four. Her tenure at Tennessee was marked by tremendous change as Pat Summitt announced a diagnosis of early onset dementia before Simmons' sophomore season, and Holly Warlick became the head coach for her junior season. Simmons ended up in orange because a scholarship opened late after point guard Cait McMahan had to stop playing for medical reasons because of balky knees.

Simmons, a shooter and slasher in high school who had never played point guard, found the ball in her hands as a freshman in college.

"Meighan has had to come in and carry a lot of the load since she was a freshman," Warlick said. "The expectations for her were really high because we needed an offensive player who could come in and make plays, and she did not disappoint. She has grown up so much and her game has gotten well rounded.

"Right now as a senior, I think she's playing a complete game. I know how much this program means to her and I think her teammates understand that, too. I think they rally around her. It will be strange seeing her as the senior on the court, but she's done a heck of a job for us here at Tennessee."

Simmons knows the ceremony could get emotional.

"I just try to embrace every single day," Simmons said. "For it to be my last regular season game in Thompson-Boling Arena, it is just one of those things where I try not to focus on it. I just don't think about it."

Jasmine Jones is just a sophomore, but the calendar seems to be flipping fast from her perspective, too.

"Yes, it did," Jones said, her eyes widening.

Jones has played in 26 games this season and started seven. She missed the Dec. 17, 2013, game against Tennessee State for precautionary reasons because of a blow to the face suffered in practice.

Her numbers are similar to last season – 4.8 points per game to 4.7 and 3.7 rebounds per game to 3.9, but one stat really stands out. Jones was 0-2 from long range a year ago and is 8-15 (53.3) percent this season, a big jump in marksmanship from long range.

Jones remains in a hybrid position of inside-out and playing on the perimeter means handling the ball more, thus the leap in turnovers from 60 to 52 a year ago, a spike Jones attributes to thinking too much instead of just trusting her instincts. Jones remains effective inside – she can create a shot in the paint and rip rebounds – and is adjusting to perimeter duty.

Jones remains the most effective on the ball, and Warlick doesn't hesitate to the put the 6-2 forward on the opposing point guard. Jones keeps it simple when she enters the game.

"Play as hard as I can, do what they ask, play defense," Jones said. "As a team I think we need to play consistent defense every game."

Jones has absorbed some hard collisions playing defense when she runs into an unseen screen. It helps when her teammates talk but sometimes even that isn't enough. Jones tends to just pop up and find the ball again.

"Even if they are calling the screen behind me, even if they yell loud and hard, I am zoned in and I don't hear," Jones said. "It's something I've got to work on. I've got to be able to open my ears and try to pay attention at the same time."

Jones and Bashaara Graves are true sophomores – classmate Andraya Carter is a redshirt freshman – and both are adjusting to a second year in which they are no longer unknown to opponents. Posts and forwards also need a little longer than guards to adjust to the college game with the biggest leap usually taking place from sophomore to junior year.

"We know what teams probably are saying about us, so it's our job as players to work on those things and then put it into play on the floor during games," Jones said. "I feel like the defense is there because you've got to want to do it and get after it."

Jones and her teammates will particularly want to "get after it" on Thursday against LSU, a team that beat the Lady Vols in Knoxville last January. The Lady Tigers have lost four in a row, so they will be motivated to prove the earlier game was more indicative of their capability.

On Sunday, the Lady Vols will bid goodbye to Simmons, a well-liked teammate.

"She is our only senior so it will be a very emotional day for everyone," Jones said.

HAIL CAESAR: Jasmine Jones has a pet iguana named Caesar that currently resides with her mother, LaTrish Jones, in Alabama.

A year ago, the younger Jones was posting photos of iguanas on social media and expressing her desire to have one – with replies from her mother to keep the creature away from her.

Caesar spent the summer in Knoxville – and has grown substantially – before heading to Alabama for the regular season. Iguanas aren't on the approved pet list for on-campus housing – Andraya Carter's snake, Nothing, who has gained national attention, lives with a local friend and makes appearances at the arena because of media requests – so Jasmine Jones needed an iguana nanny. She called home.

"She has always known that I wanted one," Jones said. "I asked her if she would take care of him for a little while. She started liking him. She enjoys taking care of him.

"Now, as he's getting bigger, he's getting a little moody and he intimidates her the way he looks at her. But I think she still enjoys it."

LaTrish recently got a Rottweiler puppy named Kane that has made visits to Knoxville.

"I know she is keeping them as far away from each other as possible," Jasmine Jones. "I don't hear as much about Caesar now that she has the puppy. Hopefully, I can get him back soon."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories