Lady Vols Bashaara Graves - Nov. 27, 2012
Kyra Elzy might have found the best way to get Meighan Simmons to play better defense.
The first-year Tennessee assistant coach routed her appeal through the junior guard's offense.
The effectiveness of Elzy's approach again will be under review when Simmons and No. 16 Tennessee (4-1) face Middle Tennessee State (4-1) at 7 tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena. The women's basketball game will not be televised but can be viewed online at utsports.com.
Elzy disguised her encouragement as humor, but she had serious intentions when asking Simmons: "You know what Meighan, you like to score right?"
"She was like, 'yeah,' " Elzy said.
So she suggested what two or three steals might do for Simmons' output.
"If you get in the right position defensively, you can probably steal it and lay it up and that might add six more points to your scoring average," Elzy said.
The idea scored with Simmons.
"She was like 'OK, I like that,' " Elzy said.
Simmons never has been a reticent scorer. She finished with 3,406 points for her high school career in Cibolo, Texas. In
her first game at Tennessee, she debuted with 22 points against Louisville. She leads all Lady Vols this season in shots (62) and is second in scoring, averaging 14.6 points per game.
There's growing evidence, though, that's she is becoming less reluctant on the other end of the court. She leads the team in steals with 11. Two second-half steals against Rice on Nov. 15 led directly to the baskets Elzy was talking about. Simmons finished with four steals for the half and 15 of her game-high 22 points in the 101-48 rout.
Simmons is tied for the team lead in fouls with 15, which suggests she's more engaged on defense. She clapped her hands in disgust and did a crow hop after reaching during a defensive drill in Tuesday's practice.
Simmons said that head coach Holly Warlick and Elzy both have been on her "like crazy" about playing defense. After Sunday's 90-37 victory over Alcorn State, Warlick said: "Meighan Simmons is one of our best defenders when Meighan wants to play."
Elzy said that Simmons hasn't been a hard sell because of her competitiveness and high-energy style of play. And the sales pitches keep coming, all aimed at getting Simmons to make defense her first priority.
"She reminds me all the time defense comes first before offense," Simmons said. "Don't let your offense dictate your defense. Let it be the opposite way around."
All the Lady Vols should take that thought to heart for tonight's game against MTSU. The Blue Raiders have two players — forward Ebony Rowe and guard Kortni Jones — on the preseason Naismith watch list. Rowe averages 19.8 points and 10.2 rebounds per game while Jones, the former Oak Ridge High standout, averages 17.4 points and leads the team with 15 3-pointers.
Overall, MTSU has made 36 treys, nearly twice as many as the 19 opponents have made against Tennessee so far this season.
The Blue Raiders will present their share of challenges. Therefore, the Lady Vols will need Simmons to be more than just a scorer.
"She already has a lot energy and emotion," Elzy said, "and that's what it takes to play defense."