Meighan Simmons kept a date with a milestone on Sunday afternoon.
Tennessee’s junior guard hurried to the rendezvous. Needing 10 points to reach the 1,000-point career mark, she arrived after two free throws with 11:44 left in the first half against North Carolina.
With time to burn and a hot shooting hand at her disposal, Simmons proceeded to another personal achievement. Her final stop was a career-high 33 points in helping lead Tennessee to a 102-57 women’s basketball rout of North Carolina.
“Whatever she ate, drank, did last night, she’s got to do that again every game,” UT coach Holly Warlick said. “I’m going to make sure of it.”
Simmons had plenty of followers as the Lady Vols convened a dominant showing before a crowd of 11,342 at Thompson-Boling Arena, one that stole the thunder from the much-hyped appearance by the Temptations Revue. Center Isabelle Harrison set a career high with 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Cierra Burdick also had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Bashaara Graves and Taber Spani rounded out the double-figure scoring for No. 16 Tennessee (6-1) with 11 and 10, respectively.
The Lady Vols won the rebounding battle, 54-40, which translated into a 24-8 advantage in second-chance points. They also had 10 fewer turnovers (30-20) and made better use of the Tar Heels’ giveaways, as evidenced by a 36-16 edge in points off turnovers.
Freshman forward Xylina McDaniel led No. 22 North Carolina (7-1) with 19 points and 13 rebounds. She gathered six steals but also committed eight turnovers. She said that the Tar Heels were fed a heaping dose of their own high-tempo style of play and it didn’t go down very well.
“So far we haven’t played a team that plays like us that likes to play fast,” she said. “It just opened our eyes.”
Conversely, the Lady Vols got an eyeful of how they want to play and were encouraged by the impressive results.
“It told us we can go up against a team that is like ourselves — very athletic and up-tempo — and do what we did against them,” Spani said. “They’re a very good team and very talented. It says a lot for our performance.”
Speaking on behalf of her effort, Simmons indicated that she was motivated by “an expectation that North Carolina was going to beat us.” She was concerned enough beforehand about her equilibrium to evoke the power of prayer.
“I got up (Sunday) morning and I prayed and I said ‘Please God, just let me get to this game and stay calm and not get too hyped or anything like that,” she said. “Today, I just let the game come to me and when I do that, a lot of things come to me in a manner that I’m not expecting.’’
Perhaps this routine should become mandatory along with her aforementioned consumption habits. By halftime, she was shooting 9 for 11 from the floor and had 22 points. Tennessee had 49, just five short of what North Carolina’s previous seven opponents had averaged for an entire game.
Simmons finished 12 for 22 from the floor and 6 for 6 from the free throw line in becoming the second SEC player to top 30 points this season. She scored the most points by a Lady Vol since Candace Parker had 34 against Notre Dame on March 30, 2008.
North Carolina’s chances of slowing down Tennessee were hurt by the loss of guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who sat out the second half after showing the effects of hitting her head on the court in the first half.
“We call her our secretary of defense,” North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. “She’s a great transition defensive player. You don’t get a lot of layups off Tierra.”
Tennessee also lost a guard in the first half when freshman Andraya Carter suffered an injury to her right shoulder for the third time in four games. Warlick expressed hope that a two-week break until Tennessee’s next game — Dec. 16 at Texas — will help curb this ominous trend.
“I think the next two weeks will be good for her to get some rest and get rehab in,” Warlick said.