Lady Vols take rematch over LSU

The Lady Vols secured an important road win over LSU by overcoming game-long foul trouble and a furious comeback by the Lady Tigers on their Senior Night. Some bulletin board material aided the cause. Go inside for analysis.

Tennessee (23-5, 12-3) stayed on track for a No. 2 seed in the SEC tourney with the 72-67 win over LSU (18-10, 7-8) in Baton Rouge.

The Lady Vols were led by the offensive punch of Cierra Burdick and Meighan Simmons and the defensive stickiness of Andraya Carter and Jasmine Jones.

Tennessee had to deal with foul trouble – three posts had two fouls each in the first half – and some officiating that Mickey Dearstone said he and coach Holly Warlick would have to discuss off the air.

"The second half was interesting," Warlick said with a laugh and went no further.

The first half was all orange. Tennessee led 42-21 at halftime behind Burdick's 15 points and Simmons' 19. The Lady Vols shot 50 percent before the break, but there were a few red flags in the box score – 11 turnovers and five players with two fouls each.

LSU, meanwhile, had been one and done on its possessions – the Lady Tigers shot 22.2 percent overall and 0-4 from long range – in the first half.

"Our defense was so solid," said Warlick, who notched her 50th as a head coach at Tennessee.

That was a major improvement from the first game, an LSU win behind 25 points from Danielle Ballard, who got to the paint with ease last January. Earlier this week, Ballard dismissed Tennessee's team defense during a media session.

Warlick made sure the players saw the article at practice, and it ended up in the locker room in Knoxville. Burdick took a copy and placed it in the visitor's locker room at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

"It was definitely bulletin board material," Burdick said. "I think we felt like we got disrespected. We wanted to show her we know how to play defense."

That was evident on the first play of the game. Ballard got to the paint and had her shot swatted by Isabelle Harrison. Ballard was 1-7 for the game and tallied three points.

That defensive mind-set prevailed throughout the first half, but LSU had some scorers, especially Theresa Plaisance and Jeanne Kenney, who both can launch threes and score inside, and scored 20 and 21 points, respectively.

LSU scored the first six points of the second half, causing Warlick to call a quick timeout, and Simmons restored order with a three-pointer. The Lady Vols maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half, but as the fouls mounted, Tennessee played with less aggression on defense and had to drop into a zone.

The exceptions were Carter and Jones, who swarmed the ball, with Carter blocking a shot in the game's final minute.

"That block was huge," Warlick said.

LSU trimmed the lead throughout the second half, knocking it to 12 with 14:30 left to play, but the Lady Vols remained in control. However, a combination of missed shots, untimely turnovers – they ended up with 22 for the game – and foul calls stalled the Lady Vols on offense. LSU pulled to within two points, 59-57, with 4:30 left and then tied it at 59 from the line.

"We had some mental breakdowns," Warlick said, referring to leaving a shooter alone in the corner and getting stripped of the ball in the open court.

But throughout the comeback, Burdick took charge of the team on the floor, and the Lady Vols never lost the lead.

"She was an unbelievable leader for us," Warlick said. "I thought she was just tremendous."

LSU had to withstand a furious comeback by the Lady Vols in Knoxville – Tennessee trimmed 15 points off a 16-point lead in about four minutes – and the Lady Vols had to do the same in Baton Rouge. In this series, the visiting team won this season.

"We blew that lead, but we got the win," Burdick said.

Simmons and Burdick boosted the lead to 63-59 from the line – Burdick was 7-8 from the line overall, Simmons 4-6 – and Simmons used a Harrison screen to bury a three for a 68-63 lead.

"It separated us," Warlick said.

The Lady Vols secured the game in the closing seconds from the free throw line, where they were 18-24 overall and 14-19 in the second half.

It was a game that the Lady Vols had on cruise control for 20 minutes, lost the momentum over the second half and then seized it back with clutch shooting from Burdick and Simmons.

It was also a team win. Because of the foul trouble, Warlick had to use all nine players available for the game. Ariel Massengale missed her ninth consecutive game and didn't travel on this road trip.

"I thought everybody came in and contributed," Warlick said.

Simmons finished with 31 points and was 5-8 from long range. The senior also grabbed seven boards. Burdick scored a career-high 22 points with 10 boards for the double-double.

"I try to get out of my own head," Burdick said of her scoring punch of late.

It's working well for the junior forward.

"I think I've got better control of my emotions," Burdick said. "Handling all this love I've got for the game in the right way."

The Lady Vols won the glass battle, 43-31, and had nine assists and eight steals. They shot 46.2 percent (24-52) for the game.

Harrison also secured a double-double with 11 points and 11 boards, despite being limited to 25 minutes because of fouls.

Jones added six points and joined with Carter, who was 0-5 but earned praise from Warlick for her defense, to harass any Tiger guard with the ball. Carter also chased Kenney through multiple screens to keep her from getting open looks behind the arc.

"I thought Andraya got good looks. They just didn't go down," Warlick said. "She is such a great defender for us."

The Lady Vols will take the win and get back to Knoxville to finish the regular season.

"We needed to come in here and get a win," Warlick said, referring to SEC and NCAA seeding.

Tennessee and Texas A&M are both 12-3 in the SEC. The Aggies play at Florida on Sunday while the Lady Vols host South Carolina. A win means Tennessee locks up the No. 2 seed no matter what happens in Gainesville.

South Carolina clinched the SEC title with a Thursday win over Georgia. The Gamecocks will want to prove Sunday that they can also knock off the defending champs.

Tennessee will honor Simmons for Senior Day and then try to close out the regular season with a win.

"It's huge for us," Burdick said. "We're focused, keyed in on it, and we want that win."


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