Meighan Simmons didn’t remember a magic moment.
Tennessee’s junior guard thought that the Lady Vols’ about-face against Rice on Thursday night was more about a mindset.
“I don’t think there was any specific play,” she said. “... we made sure we were doing the right things on the floor.”
In so doing, the Lady Vols took an abrupt right turn. They erased a six-point deficit and sped off to a 101-48 women’s basketball victory before a crowd of 10,193 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Simmons scored a game-high 22 points and led a Tennessee surge that produced 56 points from the foul-lane area and a staggering 32-0 whitewash in points off turnovers.
Rice coach Greg Williams couldn’t remember being involved in a game that featured the latter statistic.
“Once that gets going,” he said of the rout. “It’s like a shark feeding.”
Bashaara Graves scored 18 points for No. 24 Tennessee (1-1) and Isabelle Harrison set career highs with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
UT shot 56.8 percent from the floor (42 for 74) and amassed 24 assists while committing just seven turnovers. Reserve Kamiko Williams tied her career high with six assists.
The Lady Vols owed much of their impressive offensive showing to their defense.
“Defense, for us, has got to be a priority,” Tennessee first-year head coach Holly Warlick said. “And when it was, you can see, we separated ourselves.”
The first home victory for Warlick spoiled a homecoming for Rice guard Jessica Goswitz, who played on two state championship teams at Webb School. She had one 3-pointer in 30 playing minutes.
Goswitz described the game as “a wonderful opportunity.”
While Tennessee’s fans were gracious toward Goswitz, they were less enthused about her teammate, Jessica Kuster. The 6-foot-2 junior forward, Conference USA’s preseason player of the year, hit her first five shots and scored 12 of her team-high 16 points in the first 6 minutes, 4 seconds.
“I was thinking I was going to have to get out there,’’ Warlick said. “I wanted to block her shot from the sideline. We were not affecting her one bit.”
Rice (1-1) hit nine of its first 14 shots in opening a 22-16 lead within the first nine minutes.
Kuster picked up two fouls in the first half and played just 11 minutes, which worked to UT’s advantage. The Lady Vols also helped themselves by finally digging in and defending with more vigor.
“We changed our defense up a little bit; we switched up on (Kuster) but she was in a zone,” Warlick said. “I thought about going to a zone, but I just wanted to prove a point that our defense would step up and it did.”
It did almost immediately, playing an aggressive part in Rice going scoreless for nearly seven minutes. In that time, the Lady Vols bolted to a 34-22 lead.
Simmons got her game in gear in the second half, hitting all six of her shots and gathering all of her team-high four steals. Two of her steals led directly to layups.
“I think there’s a bigger expectation for me this year,’’ she said.
Warlick certainly has ambitious expectations for Simmons and rest of the team. Thursday’s performance was the best example to date of what she has in mind.
“It is how I envisioned this team,’’ she said, ‘because we’re capable of doing that.”