Meighan Simmons talks Sweet 16, win over Creighton
Holly Warlick gave Tennessee’s defense against Creighton on Monday night a solid thumbs-up.
“It was one of the best defensive efforts we’ve had all year,” she said. “And we needed it.”
The Lady Vols coach was speaking in the interview room at Thompson-Boling Arena following a 68-52 victory over the Bluejays in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. She based her assessment on No. 2 seed Tennessee (26-7) limiting Creighton to a season-low four 3-pointers on 22 attempts and gathering 13 steals. The thefts contributed to a 15-2 edge in fast-break points and 21 points off turnovers.
Such achievements, above all else, punched UT’s ticket to the Oklahoma City regional semifinals and a date with No. 6 Oklahoma (20-14) on Sunday.
Down the hall from where Warlick spoke, the Lady Vols weren’t so impressed. They sat in harsher judgement on the stools in their locker room. The consensus opinion was that they shouldn’t be satisfied.
“Not at all; Not at all,” freshman Jasmine Jones said. “We made several mistakes on defense, but we were able to stay in the game. We have to be more consistent on our defense.”
The upgrade that seemed to be on everyone’s mind was more consistent ball pressure. The Lady Vols’ athleticism and size wore on the Bluejays, who made just seven field goals after halftime, shooting 7-for-27 from the floor (1-for-12 on 3-pointers).
“We got a little lackadaisical with the ball,” Creighton guard Ally Jensen said. “I know myself, in particular, just got dead in situations where you can’t against a team like Tennessee.”
While the Lady Vols were hard on Creighton, their style of play was hard on them as well. Rapid-fire substitutions were made throughout the second half to maintain a high level of play. A good example was senior guard Kamiko Williams, who spearheaded Tennessee’s defense by gathering a team-high four steals. She took three separate breathers before coming out for good with 1:14 left. Her rest periods generally lasted about two minutes, enabling her to play 12 minutes of high-energy hoops.
“At the beginning of the year, she played three minutes and wanted out; and she doesn’t want out now,” Warlick said of Williams. “We’re giving her breathers, but she’s getting in shape and playing the basketball she needs to play. And playing the basketball we need her to play to win.”
Forward Cierra Burdick credited Tennessee’s assistant coaches with managing the players and their minutes, particularly those who were guarding at the point of attack.
“I think they did a great job of rotating players and I think we responded very well,” Burdick said. “Kamiko did a great job on the ball.”
Tennessee benefitted from center Isabelle Harrison closing the back door with three blocks. Furthermore, forwards Bashaara Graves and Jones were able to guard players away from the basket. The 6-foot-2 Jones often was deployed in Williams-like fashion.
“They speed you up because they’re longer,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said. “It’s not just athleticism; it’s length.”
If only the Lady Vols could play such defense for longer periods of time.
“I think the pressure we brought is what we’re capable of,” Burdick said. “If we can just play that for 40 minutes ...”
Then they all would be satisfied.