Lady Vols scoot past Mizzou

Sideline celebration vs. Missouri

The Lady Vols stayed perfect in the SEC with an 84-39 win over Missouri. Go inside with InsideTennessee for analysis of the game and post-game videos.

Tennessee (12-3, 3-0) hosted Missouri (12-5, 1-2), a team that wanted to run with the Lady Vols and shoot threes.

The result was a game that was over by halftime - Tennessee led 48-21 at the break - as the Lady Vols opened with a scorching start and the Tigers couldn't find the net.

After exchanging threes to open the game - Meighan Simmons connected for Tennessee followed by Kyley Simmons for Missouri - the Tigers started misfiring and the Lady Vols couldn't miss.

Missouri coach Robin Pingeton called three timeouts in the first half in an attempt to stop the onslaught, but the lead was in double digits for good, 18-8, just over six minutes into the game. At the 9:22 mark, the Lady Vols led by 20 points, 33-13.

It was the worst possible start for Missouri as the crowd of 10,967 was clearly enjoying the romp.

"I have so much respect for what you guys do here at Tennessee and the fan support that you guys have," Pingeton said. "You have a great program, great tradition here. Probably would be better to ask the players that question since they're the ones out there playing, but, man, when you don't knock down shots, it makes for a long night. That's for sure."

Tennessee shot 47.5 percent (19-40) in the first half, while Missouri connected at a paltry 19.4 percent (6-31). Five of the makes were from behind the arc. The other was a layup.

"I think the crowd was great tonight," said Mizzou junior Bri Kulas, who scored nine points and grabbed seven boards. "We just have to knock down shots, and I think that's something that our team is capable of doing."

Missouri made Tennessee work on defense. The Tigers put players in motion and whip the ball around the court. The Lady Vol post players were forced to leave the paint and guard to the arc. The guards had to get through screens and chase shooters hither and yon.

"Their eight screens in one set, we have never experienced that," Simmons said. "I think that's like I said, it just tests our defense and how well we can play a defense for 30 seconds on the clock and like I said, make sure we stay consistent and everybody is just doing their part out there."

Missouri is a young team without a formidable post presence, so Pingeton has to rely on the long ball. That strategy meant Tennessee's posts often had to leave the paint, join the chase and defend to the arc.

"Yes, it was kind of difficult," Bashaara Graves said. "We went over it in practice. I was just struggling a little bit, but I think we adjusted to it very well."

Missouri set two Thompson-Boling Arena records with threes attempted by a team and a player.

Sophomore guard Morgan Eye, who connected on 11 threes in 18 attempts against Auburn last Sunday, was 6-17 against Tennessee. That broke the record of 15 attempts set by Connecticut's Ann Strother on Jan. 7, 2006, in Knoxville.

Missouri was 9-36 overall, breaking the 34 attempts by Georgia on Feb. 21, 2011.

Missouri shot 13-66 overall with just four attempts inside the arc. The Tigers shot 19.7 percent, the lowest for a Tennessee opponent since Arkansas shot 18.2 percent on Jan. 8, 2012.

"I feel like in the first half, I think our defense really affected them and slowed them down and it didn't allow them to get into their sets as much as they usually do with other opponents," Simmons said.

"In the second half, I really think they were just missing a lot of their shots. I feel like we could have, we got in a little slump after awhile, but we kind of picked it up at the end, but we have to be consistent throughout the whole game."

And therein lies the rub. While coach Holly Warlick is happy with the win, she watched her team lose some of its flow late in the first half and she had to call a timeout early in the second half when she didn't like the start.

"It's a great win for us," Warlick said. "I'm proud of our kids but a lot of things I'm talking as a coach that we have to get better.

"We gave them too many open looks on the three. Those are things we've got to correct. I thought our first half was better than our second half, so if we can ever put the two together and play it consistent, then we'll play a complete 40-minute game."

After two games in which the Lady Vols were in a dogfight in the first half against South Carolina and Georgia, Thursday was almost too easy. They were connecting inside and out, and the Tigers were losing the ball - they have 12 first-half turnovers - or missing the basket.

"I just felt like we played without poise," Pingeton said. "It just felt like we played panicky at times. Absolutely give Tennessee a lot of credit. They're a great team. They have some great athletes. They're long. They're lanky.

"They're a great team, and I do feel like we had some open looks. We just played a little bit panicky on offense. I think the shots, we've knocked down shots in the past and will knock down in the future."

While Warlick saw room for improvement throughout the game - Missouri still got some clean looks from the arc - the Tigers managed even fewer points in the second half, 18, than the 21 scored in the first.

The Lady Vols grabbed 57 rebounds - led by 15 from Isabelle Harrison and eight from Graves - but the Tigers countered with 49, a stat that is somewhat a function of the three attempts as those tend to lead to long rebounds.

Despite getting 15 offensive boards, the Tigers got zero second-chance points, while Tennessee got 22 with 18 offensive boards.

The Lady Vols dominated the other statistical categories with 40 points in the paint to six for Missouri.

"We got the ball inside and we took good shots," Warlick said. "I thought they would come out and run us 2-3 (zone), so we planned ahead for that. I thought we took really good looks and we moved the ball and we didn't quick-shoot the basketball.

"We got the ball inside, and for us to get the ball inside, that's big for us when we can get looks and get a little two-foot shot."

When Tennessee hit its lull late in the first half, it was because the ball stopped going inside and the jump shooters were taking early shots. Warlick got that under control, and the inside-out attack was restored, an especially effective strategy since Missouri was a small team.

"We take advantage of the post a lot when it comes to teams like that," Harrison said. "It helps a lot on our post game and also when they're trying to double down, we have those great guards on the outside."

Simmons connected on 3-6 from the arc and led the team in scoring at 18 points. Graves added 16 with Harrison tallying 12. Taber Spani, who has elevated her scoring with Cierra Burdick out with a broke hand, chipped in with 11 points.

Massengale had eight points with four assists. Kamiko Williams, who now has a nickname of Spider-man after scaling the net to poke free a stuck ball, added nine points off the bench, while Jasmine Jones had a pair of sixes in points and rebounds.

"I love us to have balanced scoring," Warlick said. "I don't want us to rely on just a Meighan Simmons. Or Bashaara. I want us to be able to score the basketball. That makes us difficult to defend.

"If somebody has an off night, we know somebody can step in and take up the slack. When you look down and see four people in double figures, that's awesome for us."

Another stat to like about the box score is minutes played. Nobody hit 30 minutes with Massengale and Simmons coming the closest at 29. The starters had logged a lot of minutes to start the SEC, but Warlick was able to use all nine available players Thursday with everyone but Jasmine Phillips, who is making her way back from a hip flexor, reaching double digits in minutes.

The SEC is a physical and fast-paced brand of basketball, so if Warlick can steal rest for her starters in some games, that can pay off down the road.

Missouri is a newcomer to the SEC, having moved from the Big 12 Conference. That means the coaches and players have new venues and new teams to adjust to all season long.

"It is really hard," Eye said. "I know being in the Big 12 last year you kind of get a feel for how the teams are.

"I know the coaches will say the same. They have to scout a bunch of different teams this year, and we're getting used to a different style of play here in the SEC."

It is a style that Tennessee is well suited for - up-tempo in the open floor and physical inside.

"I just love that kind of play," Simmons said. "I love up and down, being able to get a steal and keep going. Like me, they consider me the Energizer Bunny and that's what I feed off of is quick games like that just going up and down.

"I think that actually it brings out our strengths, which is actually running up and down the floor, getting points in transition."

Tennessee got 21 points from its fast break, and no basket was more pleasing to the crowd than one scored by Simmons in transition to give the Lady Vols a 69-31 lead with 7:35 left to play.

It was set up on the other end with back-to-back blocks by Jones and Williams. Massengale got the defensive rebound and got the ball ahead to Simmons. The two blocks, board and basket took a mere seven seconds end to end.

Harrison, who had four blocks, was out of the game by then, but she cheered the play from the sideline.

"I loved it," Harrison said. "I always enjoy what it looks like from the other side, so it looked pretty good. I was pretty proud. It was nice."

Williams' block was part of an overall solid game for the senior as she added two steals, nine points, four boards, four assists and no turnovers.

"I think she's been really consistent the last three games," Warlick said. "We need her solid like that. She can be a great defender for us, a great rebounder, and she's scoring the basketball.

"I like how she's playing, like how hard she's playing, and probably more important I like how she's being consistent."

Warlick is still looking for consistency team-wide for 40 minutes. But she also understands the value of a win in the SEC.

Tennessee was picked by the coaches to finish fifth in the league with the media putting them fourth in preseason. The players seem to know the expectations were lowered. They also didn't seem to agree with that position.

"The coaches try to get on us all the time and say that we have the talent and the physical ability to actually do that for 40 minutes straight and I think it just has to come from within us and you have to be consistent," Simmons said.

"We play like that for the rest of the time and SEC, we're going to do some really good things."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Game highlights from utsportstv

Coach Holly Warlick

Meighan Simmons, Bashaara Graves, Isabelle Harrison

Coach Robin Pingeton, Morgan Eye, Bri Kulas

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