Lady Vols' Simmons emerges as more complete player

Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons (10) shoots over Oral Roberts guard Kevi Luper (15) in the second half of a first-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 23, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 83-62. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons (10) shoots over Oral Roberts guard Kevi Luper (15) in the second half of a first-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 23, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 83-62. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons (10) shoots over Creighton guard McKenzie Fujan (11) in the second half of a second-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament on Monday, March 25, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 68-52 to advance. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons (10) shoots over Creighton guard McKenzie Fujan (11) in the second half of a second-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament on Monday, March 25, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 68-52 to advance. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons (10) shoots in the second half of a first-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament against Oral Roberts, Saturday, March 23, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 83-62. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons (10) shoots in the second half of a first-round game in the women's NCAA college basketball tournament against Oral Roberts, Saturday, March 23, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. Tennessee won 83-62. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons has bounced back from a disappointing sophomore season to emerge as the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer in her junior year.

Now she wants to become a more consistent defender.

The second-seeded Lady Vols (26-7) need Simmons to deliver a complete performance Sunday when they face No. 6 seed Oklahoma (24-10) in an Oklahoma City Regional semifinal matching two of the nation's highest-scoring teams.

"I've matured a lot on both ends of the floor," Simmons said. "Defense is one of the things I've been trying to focus on. I know at the next level, they're going to be looking at a lot of things, and defense is one of those things. When I continue to focus on that, it makes me become an all-around player. I am an all-around player right now, but when I put my mind to it, I can do anything."

Simmons averaged 13.5 points and was the SEC newcomer of the year in 2010-11, but she followed that up by scoring just 11.1 points per game and shooting 37.5 percent from the floor as a sophomore.

She learned from the experience and improved her numbers across the board this year.

"I've become more patient," Simmons said. "My freshman year, there are so many shots I'd take that I think about (now) and watch film from the last couple of years and I'm like, 'Oh my God, what was I doing?' Now my shots are more within the offense."

Simmons averages 17.3 points per game and holds a narrow edge over LSU's Theresa Plaisance (17.0) for the SEC scoring lead. Simmons is aiming to become the first Lady Vol to top the SEC in scoring since her favorite player Candace Parker accomplished the feat in Tennessee's 2008 national championship season.

Her remarkable speed allows Simmons to run up and down the floor with just about anyone in the country. Simmons comes from an athletic family and lists former Butkus Award-winning linebacker Aaron Curry and former NFL linebacker Eric Barton among her cousins. The 5-foot-9 junior from Cibolo, Texas, expects to have 15-20 friends or relatives watching her in Oklahoma City this weekend.

"She's incredible at putting the ball in the basket," sophomore guard Ariel Massengale said. "We know whenever we're in crunch time and need a basket, we can count on her to make that happen for us."

Although offense comes naturally to Simmons, her defense is a work in progress.

"Meighan is learning the complete game, the total game," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "We all know she's a scorer. I think she's had to understand she's got to do different things for us to be successful. She's becoming a better defender, a better rebounder, and that's what we need from her."

Ever since she took over the program last April, Warlick has emphasized the importance of defense to Simmons. Warlick and her assistants have reminded Simmons that scoring in bunches won't help the team if she's giving up an equal number of points on the other end of the floor.

"It's just holding her accountable, being consistent with her," assistant coach Kyra Elzy said. "Just because you're scoring doesn't mean you're going to get to stay on the floor if you're not getting it done on the defensive end. ... I think she's stepped up to the challenge."

Tennessee's opening game in the NCAA tournament showed how far Simmons has come in that regard.

Simmons went on one of her customary scoring spurts Saturday by reeling off 10 straight Tennessee points during a 15-3 run that put the Lady Vols ahead for good in an 83-62 victory over Oral Roberts. This time, her defense created her offense. Simmons made a pair of steals during the run that led to layups.

"That's a step in the right direction," Elzy said. "Now we just need it consistently. That's what we're looking for from her every game."

They'll definitely need it from her Sunday.

Tennessee's chances of going on its first Final Four run since 2008 could depend on how well Simmons and her teammates defend. Tennessee averages 77.7 points per game to rank fourth nationally, while Oklahoma (73.0) ranks 15th.

Oklahoma has averaged 81.5 points in each of its first two NCAA tournament games. Aaryn Ellenberg has averaged 24.5 points and has shot a combined 10 of 20 from 3-point range in the first two rounds of the tournament.

"She's a great player," Simmons said. "She's the head of the snake. I think if we take her down, we should be fine."

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Comments » 14

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to RIGHTISBETTERTHANLEFT:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Sorry you feel that way but you are wrong. The offense goes through her and without her the Lady Vols may not be a .500 team this year. You do know she is the Co-MVP of the league this year right?

She is the Lady Vols best scorer and I personally want her shooting more than any other player. I will give you that she does take some bad shots, but that's what you live with sometimes.

cheetah-vol writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

Sorry you feel that way but you are wrong. The offense goes through her and without her the Lady Vols may not be a .500 team this year. You do know she is the Co-MVP of the league this year right?

She is the Lady Vols best scorer and I personally want her shooting more than any other player. I will give you that she does take some bad shots, but that's what you live with sometimes.

Agree. I love her heart and desire. The scowl she gets on her face sometimes reminds me of an ex-LV coach who would do the same thing when it was time for the team to crank up their game. When she focuses on her defensive play and gets others involved making assists, it seems she begins to take less "bad shots." I think Holly has helped her to improve her game.

voloffaith writes:

in response to RIGHTISBETTERTHANLEFT:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Check the list mission accomplished....I(you) typed my usual negative stuff that we all know is just puff with no substance. Your description might of born some resemblnce in her early days , but not now. She is a scorer whose game has developed to a more team player mindset. One only has to look back to her assist's the past game on wide open layups of her passing back for the other to take shot. So again ,mission accomplished......

BxVol writes:

Meighan has become much better in shot selection, her defense is improving, and I`m still smiling over the fast break pass to Kamiko in their last win over Creighton.

underthehill writes:

I have never seen any lady player get from one end of the floor to the other and make the shot like Simmons..she is a unique talent ..on offense..she has improved on defense but has a ways to go..still crosses her feet too much..and like others have stated..the Lady Vols would not be where they are without Meghan.. and their only chance to beat Baylor is for her to be on her game big time..I know ..they are not playing Baylor..but they will..

tonyvick#213307 writes:

Meighan whether on or not just shoot. We have a better chance of winnng when you shoot. Just shoot. Shoot!

madrigal writes:

I see there is one Simmons hater still persisting. Go away. You are a stuck record and what comes out of you bears no resemblance to reality.

Meighan is a rare one and it's always interesting to hear the comments from fans of other teams as well as sportscasters. She's continued to work hard to develop her game and she's doing as much on defense as she is on offense now. If you've got a great shooter, you let them shoot, but Meighan is more than just that. She's upgraded her whole game this year.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to madrigal:

I see there is one Simmons hater still persisting. Go away. You are a stuck record and what comes out of you bears no resemblance to reality.

Meighan is a rare one and it's always interesting to hear the comments from fans of other teams as well as sportscasters. She's continued to work hard to develop her game and she's doing as much on defense as she is on offense now. If you've got a great shooter, you let them shoot, but Meighan is more than just that. She's upgraded her whole game this year.

Good post; agree with all. I haven't really seen any evidence that any of the rest of the players resent Meighan's shooting. She truly has become a bit more selective and hence more efficient, but nobody can get the points she can. Her only real remaining fault in my book is that she may be pressing too hard when the LVs face elite competition. The more she LETS things happen as opposed to feeling she has to MAKE things happen all the time, the better she and the team will be.

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to johnlg00:

Good post; agree with all. I haven't really seen any evidence that any of the rest of the players resent Meighan's shooting. She truly has become a bit more selective and hence more efficient, but nobody can get the points she can. Her only real remaining fault in my book is that she may be pressing too hard when the LVs face elite competition. The more she LETS things happen as opposed to feeling she has to MAKE things happen all the time, the better she and the team will be.

Glad to see the Meigan haters are in the minority.

kazoo writes:

Simmons' offensive game has matured a lot. Her shot selection is much improved, and she's got a good mid-range game now. She and the other guards need to get tougher defensively.

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

Ok for the Simmon haters. She's a shooter. Someone you must have on the team to bail you out . A consistent scorer. And to call her a ballhog is just immature. Get over it. I guess you would call Delle Don or Griner ballhogs too.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to maxvolfan#217855:

Ok for the Simmon haters. She's a shooter. Someone you must have on the team to bail you out . A consistent scorer. And to call her a ballhog is just immature. Get over it. I guess you would call Delle Don or Griner ballhogs too.

Exactly. Even Meighan's volume shooting is an integral part of the LVs' offense. The other players EXPECT her to put them up, so when she gets it they are looking to rebound and the LVs have nearly always been good at offensive rebounding. In fact, when the opponent is packing it in on you, offensive rebounding is about the only way the post players CAN get the ball. In that sense, Meighan's improved efficiency lately can almost HURT the team if the other players aren't alert; they aren't looking for her to pass it.

xvolx writes:

She's the cat's meow.

ps11824 writes:

If not for Meigan's scoring we wouldn't have made it to where we are. We'd be home watching with so many teams who never make the top 64, let alone a #2 seed. Just where, RIBTL, do you think those 17+ppg came from? You silly poster.

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