Meighan Simmons' showing brought 'energy' to Lady Vols

Sophomore's inspired showing boosted team

Sophomore's inspired showing boosted team

By Dan Fleser

fleserd@knoxnews.com

The question Tennessee's Meighan Simmons asked herself was sort of vague in nature.

"Where do I want to be by the end of the year?" the sophomore guard wondered before Monday's game against Kentucky.

Her response, on the other hand, was to the point — a season-high 25 points to be specific.

"I wanted to come out there and make a statement,'' Simmons said, "and prove to everyone else that I'm so much better that what I've been showing."

No. 13 Tennessee (18-7, 9-3 SEC) would benefit greatly from further proof. The Lady Vols begin a two-game road trip with an SEC women's basketball game against Mississippi State (14-11, 4-8) today (TV: CSS, 9 p.m.).

When Simmons plays well, she tends to be demonstrative. And her teammates feed off her emotional displays, as if they're connected by jumper cables.

"This team needs energy,'' assistant coach Mickie DeMoss said. "We don't have an abundance of energy, and she is a high-energy player."

She debuted last season as if she came draped in neon, scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the season-opener at Louisville. Afterward, teammate Shekinna Stricklen said: "I know we love her."

Simmons took the point-guard duties off Stricklen's hands and went on to become SEC freshman of the year, leading Tennessee in scoring (13.5 points per game), assists (104) and shots (438).

"I remember about

midway through last year I thought: 'Our whole self-confidence depends on whether Meighan Simmons hits shots or not,' '' DeMoss said. "Because (the players) fed off Meighan."

With Simmons carrying such a heavy load, the coaches didn't weigh her down defensively.

"We let her slide a little bit," DeMoss said, "not slide, but we were like: 'look how much can she learn in one year defensively."

The learning was left to this season as UT has sought more balance in its production and more emphasis on defense. Simmons still sounds like a freshman as she wrestles with the fundamentals of becoming a better defender.

"Just maintaining the (defensive) position,'' she said. "Staying low at all times. Seeing where the ball and my man are at all times. Being aware and being conscious of where the ball is at all times."

In her case, the learning curve was steeper than before. Since Simmons no longer was playing point guard, she wasn't able to concentrate solely on the other point guard, Instead, she's been fighting through a variety of screens in navigating the more treacherous terrain of off-ball defense.

DeMoss acknowledged that the thought process involved might diminish a shooter's concentration. Even after Monday's 10-for-17 performance, Simmons' overall accuracy of 36.4 percent still lags behind her 41.8 percent accuracy of last season.

Still, there are signs lately that Simmons the scorer might be able to coexist with her defensive alter ego. She's shot 56.7 percent from the floor (21 for 37) in the last three games and scored at least 20 points twice.

Her aggressive play along the front line of Tennessee's 2-3 zone Monday night was lauded by associate head coach Holly Warlick, albeit in back-handed fashion.

"I thought she was committed on the defensive end,'' Warlick said. "She was not a liability."

DeMoss conceded that a zone alignment might be less of a drain on Simmons. And the more energized she is, the better off Tennessee will be. No question.

"If we can keep getting that from her,'' DeMoss said, "it's going to be huge."

Dan Fleser may be reached at 865-342-6288. Follow him at http://twitter.com/FleserKNS and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/fleser

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Comments » 4

voloffaith writes:

Yes the energizer bunny can flow into others mental state for a game. All we can do is focus on our games....the ones we control and leave kittenettes to the remainder of their schedule.

ModelMaker writes:

I can remember Maya Moore saying the reason she went to Uconn was that Geno gets after his players and makes them better balplayers. I think Micky DeMoss let the cat out of the bag when she said we kind of let Simmons slide. Some players you really have to get after and very few you don't. Maybe this team is one that you really have to get after if your going to get them to play at their best.

johnlg00 writes:

Sounds like the coaching staff is finally "getting it" in terms of how this team plays at its best. The zone seems to have paid off in several ways, not least by allowing Meighan to save a little energy on the defensive end. No question the task of chasing the other team's shooting guard around the court and fighting through constant screens detracted from her offense. It has also been effective in cutting down on the dribble penetrations and give-and-go plays that killed the LVs earlier. Now they just need to learn how to rebound better out of the zone, and they just may have the combination that can carry them farther in the post-season than many of us thought a couple of weeks ago.

RLL59 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Sounds like the coaching staff is finally "getting it" in terms of how this team plays at its best. The zone seems to have paid off in several ways, not least by allowing Meighan to save a little energy on the defensive end. No question the task of chasing the other team's shooting guard around the court and fighting through constant screens detracted from her offense. It has also been effective in cutting down on the dribble penetrations and give-and-go plays that killed the LVs earlier. Now they just need to learn how to rebound better out of the zone, and they just may have the combination that can carry them farther in the post-season than many of us thought a couple of weeks ago.

Thank you, John. I believe you have credibility with the vast majority of posters on this board. It's amazing how many Lady Vol fans think that all one has to do to be successful as a Lady Vol is to have the desire to win. Each of these young women, I'm sure, grew up with a strong competitive nature and a dedication to the game. They're all used to winning and hate losing. Let's hope that you are correct and those that didn't see a change in the game strategy are wrong. Because if not, and the coaching staff actually believes 'it is all about heart or coming to play', and go back to the original style play, we are all in for another disappointment. The strategy in the next 2 games will tell the story. If the Lady Vols use the remaining games to work on improving the areas where they were weak against Kentucky (defensive rebounding, turnovers), and employ the zone defense and more open offensive game, they could make a strong showing at the tournaments. If the coaches go back to the old strategies, they'll not get far, and the clamor again will be for them to play with more heart.

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