Meighan Simmons on the Lady Vols' win
OKLAHOMA CITY — Tennessee’s advance to the Elite Eight was distinguished by a changing of the guards Sunday afternoon at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Senior guard Kamiko Williams, not SEC co-player of the year Meighan Simmons, is starting to look like the Lady Vols’ most valuable player.
It was as obvious as hit-and-miss in a 74-59 victory over Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Simmons, Tennessee’s leading scorer, hit only 1 of 15 field-goal attempts. Williams made 6 of 8 tries.
But that was just the tip of her stat line in the Oklahoma City regional semifinal.
She led her team in points (15), tied for the lead in steals (3) and was second in rebounds (7) and assists (4). And she made an immediate impression as soon as she crossed paths with Oklahoma’s leading scorer on the game’s first possession.
Williams stole the ball from Aaryn Ellenberg and drove for an uncontested layup.
‘She’s smaller than me, so I knew I had to get low,” Williams said. “She swings the ball in front of her. I happened to stick my hand in there.”
The exchange spoke volumes. Williams was headed for one of the best games of her career. Ellenberg’s problems were just beginning.
So were the Sooners’.
They made only 30.7 percent of their field-goal attempts, committed 17 turnovers and trailed by 17 points at halftime.
Ellenberg, who averages 18 points per game, exemplified her team’s struggles. Bedeviled by Williams for the most part, she missed 14 of her first 16 shots and scored most of her 13 points long after the outcome was obvious.
Williams credited assistant coach Kyra Elzy for helping motivate her against Ellenberg.
“She challenged me to guard her, to bring my best defense,” Williams said. “My teammates helped me out. So it wasn’t just me.”
Williams kept thinking “defense.” But kept delivering offense as well.
She had 13 by halftime. By then, she also had given the Sooners a complete sampling of her offensive repertoire.
She scored off a steal and a rebound. She hit a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper.
Her game wasn’t an aberration.
She has had three or more steals in each of the past five games and seven rebounds in three of the past seven games. She also has averaged 11.5 points in those games, compared to 6.1 points for the first 26 games.
Combine her versatility with her recent production and you can make a case for her as team MVP.
“Absolutely,” coach Holly Warlick said. “I totally agree with you.
“We’re asking her to lock down the opponent’s best offensive player. And we want her to make offensive plays as well.”
In fact, Williams should have had an opportunity to make more plays in the second half during which she took only one shot.
But the ball kept going to Simmons as if she were at the top of her game. She followed a 1-for-7 first half by missing all eight second-half shots, including a layup.
To her credit, Simmons didn’t allow her wayward shooting to negatively affect her defense. Her quickness and aggressiveness on the perimeter were factors in Oklahoma’s 5-for-29 shooting from 3-point range.
But another Tennessee guard was a bigger factor on this afternoon. And the deeper into the tournament UT has gone, the bigger Williams has become.
“She’s wrapping her arms around this team and saying, ‘Let’s go,’ ” Warlick said.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.