Tennessee's Kamiko Williams didn't make an entrance Thursday night.
Her first start of the women's basketball season afforded her the opportunity to run through the tunnel. Instead, the Lady Vols senior guard took up her usual position at the edge of the court, greeting her teammates.
"I love doing the handshakes with the team and giving my friends hugs before the game," she said. "That's something I enjoy doing. I'd rather be out there."
Williams didn't forgo the chance to have a presence, however. She started stuffing her stat line with an assist on UT's first basket. She finished with 10 points and career-highs for rebounds (13) and steals (six). She matched her career high with six assists. She lent a busy hand to Tennessee's 88-45 SEC women's basketball victory over Mississippi State.
Before a Thompson-Boling Arena crowd generously listed at 13,011, Meighan Simmons scored a game-high 21 points. Taber Spani scored 15 and Bashaara Graves added 10. UT emptied its depleted bench against an overmatched opponent.
While center Isabelle Harrison sat out the game with a left knee injury, forward Cierra Burdick returned after missing eight games with a fractured right hand.
No. 9 Tennessee (17-4, 8-0 SEC) dominated all facets, including a 22-2 edge in fast-break points.
"They obviously didn't have a hangover from Monday," said Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer, referencing UT's 77-67 loss to Notre Dame. "They came out and took the fight to us, especially in transition. They beat us up and down the floor from start to finish."
The Bulldogs' best response came from 6-foot-4 center Martha Alwal, who scored a team-high 16 points.
After talking with freshman Jasmine Jones, Tennessee coach Holly Warlick opted to start Williams in place of Harrison, who will have surgery today to address a lateral meniscus injury. Williams found out she was making her first start since her sophomore season from Spani during pregame warm-ups.
"She just told me to be ready," Williams said. "I just had to get my mind right."
Warlick had a tough time determining her favorite Williams' statistic. Her first love was the steals.
"She has a great presence on the defensive end, Warlick said, "and she can be one of our best defensive players."
Then she stopped herself and said, "let me back up."
Warlick eventually settled on Williams' 32 minutes, which were a season-high for her.
Warlick wasn't nearly as conflicted in summing up Williams' performance as "one of her best games since she's been here. That's our expectation for her. … She needs to put those numbers up every night for us to maintain and be consistent."
Burdick was happy to have any minutes after being sidelined since suffering her injury while doing extra work on New Year's Eve with former UT's men player Bobby Maze. She entered the game to a rousing ovation with 6:53 left in the first half.
"I was all smiles; smiling from ear to ear," Burdick said. "When basketball is your life since you were 5 years old and it gets taken away from you for a month, when you get to come back, all you can do is smile."
Burdick scored four points and grabbed five rebounds.
Nia Moore, who was tabbed for more playing time after Harrison's injury, overcame first-half foul trouble to log 12 minutes and score eight points.
Fellow reserve Jasmine Phillips matched her season high with nine minutes and set a new high with eight points.