Photo by Saul Young, copyright © 2011 // Buy this photo
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The misses didn't matter as much as the moment to Meighan Simmons.
Tennessee's beleaguered sharpshooter was working on a 2-for-10 performance when she found herself wide open in the corner against Rutgers on Tuesday night. The sophomore guard stepped into the shot like she hadn't missed in a week.
She did the same on her next long-range shot with a Scarlet Knights defender right in her face.
Simmons' 3-pointers were part of an 11-point scoring flurry inside the final six minutes that propelled the Lady Vols to a 67-61 women's basketball victory before a crowd of 6,368 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
"For some reason, I thrive in moments where you know the team needs that certain person to step up at that moment,'' Simmons said. "It just happened to be me."
For some reason, No. 6 Tennessee (6-2) was able to survive a 38-18 disparity in paint points, an 18-12 deficit in second-chance points and just four points from its reserves.
"It speaks to their poise,'' Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "And the things they did."
Shekinna Stricklen did just about everything for UT, scoring a team-high 22 points and grabbing a game-high nine rebounds. She exited briefly in the final minute because of a leg cramp but returned to seal the outcome with two free throws with six seconds left.
Simmons and Taber Spani each scored 13 points.
April Sykes scored a game-high 27 points for No. 11 Rutgers (9-2).
What the Lady Vols did best was hit 3-pointers. They were 9-for-18 from long range with Simmons, Spani and Stricklen hitting three apiece.
After UT missed three free throws while trying to close out the victory, associate head coach Holly Warlick joked about a possible solution.
"Maybe we can move the free-throw line back to the three-point line,'' she said.
Free throws weren't the only shots with which UT struggled. The Lady Vols missed from close range and other points on the court throughout the game.
The Lady Vols' shooting woes were more problematic than their 16 turnovers. After opening a 13-point lead in the first half, they made just one basket in the final six minutes, finishing with 31 percent accuracy (9-for-29) for the half. Rutgers took advantage to creep within 33-28 at the break.
Simmons missed a 3-pointer to end the half and UT assistant coach Mickie DeMoss stared at her with her arms spread out wide in disbelief.
The Lady Vols weren't much better at the start of the second half as Rutgers pulled ahead 43-38 with 15:38 left. But then they started to find the range, which resulted in five lead changes.
Glory Johnson's layup with 5:42 completed the final exchange. Simmons did her best to make sure of that. The first of her clutch 3-pointers came with 4:20 left. The second splashed down 44 seconds later.
"I feel like I was really positive at that time with those two 3s,'' Simmons said. "I was really focused on hitting those 3s because I knew we needed them."
Spani followed with a trey and UT's lead suddenly was 64-54.
They didn't miss when it mattered most.