AUSTIN, Texas – Tennessee wasted a lot of lead Sunday afternoon.
The Lady Vols built a 22-point advantage in the second half only to see Texas whittle the difference to 10 on three occasions inside the final 8 minutes, 15 seconds.
No matter how much the Longhorns threatened, Tennessee’s six double-figure scorers kept a watchful eye. They made sure the Lady Vols always had more lead than they could possibly squander.
They steered Tennessee clear of trouble and hung some window dressing on a 94-75 women’s basketball victory before a matinee crowd of 3,027 at the Erwin Center.
“I think we’re extremely balanced,’’ said Cierra Burdick, who scored 14 points. “That’s one of our strengths. On a given day, somebody can go off and score points.
“The fact that we had how many players in double figures? Six. I mean that says a lot for our team basketball.”
Meighan Simmons led the team approach with 18 points for No. 13 Tennessee (7-1). Ariel Massengale matched her season high and Taber Spani reached a new one as each scored 15.
Bashaara Graves also scored 14 points. The freshman forward grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds as well.
Fellow freshman Jasmine Jones was the sixth player to join the group with 10 points, which matched her season high.
“Because of the way they shot the ball in the first half, we did try to change our defense and put more pressure on the ball,” Texas coach Karen Aston said. “They made very tough shots.”
Tennessee’s scorers outnumbered Texas’ Chassidy Fussell, who returned from missing two games with a head injury to score a career-high 31 for No. 18 Texas (6-2).
Despite the victory, Tennessee didn’t survive unscathed as center Isabelle Harrison was helped off with 7:54 left after suffering an injury to her right ankle. Tennessee coach Holly Warlick was hopeful but uncertain about Harrison’s status for Tuesday’s game at No. 3 Baylor.
The Lady Vols had problems to begin with when they didn’t submit their starting lineup in time beforehand and were assessed a technical foul. They were down by two Fussell free throws before the opening tip. The clerical error inspired a funny exchange afterward between Warlick and Michael Beaumont, the team’s director of operations.
It didn’t help matters that Simmons, playing before a large group from her hometown of Cibolo, Texas, was over-amped and missed her first seven attempts.
Warlick was more uncomfortable with how Simmons started than how the junior guard finished. She hit the side of the backboard with one second-half attempt as part of her 6-for-20 performance. But she also nailed a pair of clutch 3-pointers down the stretch, including one over Fussell for an 84-70 lead with 4:44 left.
“In the second half, I thought she took some good shots, she took some shots that Meighan can make,” Warlick said. “I think in the first half she was forcing.”
Tennessee’s biggest problem turned out to be foul trouble, which slowed its transition game and undermined its defensive effort.
At times, the Lady Vols were forced to deploy the 6-foot-1 Spani and the 6-2 Jones against Texas 6-7 center Imani McGee-Stafford.
“That’s something that we pride ourselves on is the versatility we can bring,” Spani said. “In practice, Cierra, Jasmine and myself, we’re always guarding guards and posts.”
Burdick described the predicaments caused by Tennessee’s foul trouble as “a huge issue.”
Not too big, though, for Tennessee’s scorers to handle.