I will use pictures of Simmons the rest of the season if she promises to go off for 30+ points. - Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE
All the matchups an gameplanning don't matter when Good Simmons shows up for the Lady Vols. Thanks to Simmons (and Isabelle Harrison), the Lady Vols dominated the Lady Tar Heels 102-57.
So this is what Good Simmons looks like. Simmons' 22 points in the first half (and 33 overall) paced Tennessee to a neat little 49-28 lead at halftime on the North Carolina Lady Tar Heels, which eventually paced into a 102-57 win. Yeah, you read that right. North Carolina couldn't pull close when it mattered in the second half - 52-36 with 16:43 to go was probably the best chance they'd have, and although they skated to a 62-44 deficit with 11:43 to go, Tennessee finally woke up and put the game away after that.
I'm not sure I'd expect Simmons to go 9-11 in the first half every game, but as it turns out, 22 points on 11 shots? Yeah, I'll take it. Most of the the first half can be chalked up to three players: Simmons (who also put Tierra Ruffin-Pratt on two fouls early), Isabelle Harrison (11 points and 8 boards), and Ariel Massengale (quiet, save for 6 assists and one turnover). After squelching the initial UNC spurt to start the second half, it was all easy riding from there - the most surprising part of this was the Lady Vols not backing off.
Even I was figuring on a 20-point cruise control win, but this is the kind of win that sends a message. Whatever afflicted the Lady Vols in that UT-Chattanooga game seems to be fixed now. It's good timing, too. The Lady Vols have a tough, tough stretch ahead between now and Christmas: at Texas, at BRITTNEY GRINER, home for Stanford. They have two weeks to prepare for that, and now? Everyone's paying attention. (I'd still expect 1-2 and wouldn't be surprised at 0-3, but before this game, I would've thought 0-3 was penciled in. Now? Well, they can beat Texas at least.)
It wasn't all great, though: although Massengale played extensive minutes, backup / 1B point guard Andraya Carter injured her shoulder and is day-to-day. Carter missed the second half entirely; hopefully she'll recover fully in a couple weeks.
Go figure, Simmons pulls down the breadsticks.
Hey look, it's the return of game notes!
- This was the largest margin of victory over a ranked opponent since November 25, 2000.
- Any other game, Harrison would earn breadsticks for her big 18/11 line, which mostly came when the game was close. Then again, I think part of the reason she got that line was because of the inside-out work she was doing with Graves, leaving her against Waltiea Rolle, who she comfortably handled. (How someone who's 6'6" only comes down with 4 boards in the women's game blows my mind; you should get 6 or 7 by accident at least, so credit to Harrison.)
- Bashaara Graves was really quiet in the first half - 5 points, 5 boards. Credit to Xylina McDaniel and a bit of credit to the gameplan, which seemed to keep her out of the paint (to Harrison's benefit). Then again, she didn't need to do much. Graves - along with Burdick - garbage-timed their way to decent lines (Graves with 11/8, Burdick on 15/10), but they didn't do a ton when it mattered. Not that there was a lot of time today when it really mattered - thanks, Simmons.
- Of the four keys from pregame: none mattered! Good Simmons showed up. Seriously though, Harrison won her matchup pretty convincingly, Simmons won hers, McDaniel won, and Gross was marginalized enough, I suppose.
- Xylina McDaniel's final line: 19 points (7-10 from the line), 12 boards, 7 turnovers, 6 steals, 4 fouls. She'd either drive me nuts or I'd love her game if I was a Tar Heels fan, and I don't know which. But she's a freshman, which means look out in a couple years if I'd guess.
- Taber Spani did the instant offense thing pretty well. 5 minutes in the first half led to 2-4 from beyond the arc, and she chipped in a couple steals and a couple made baskets in the second half in a couple minutes as well. With this guard lineup, she doesn't need to be a world-beater, but yeah, I'll take 10 points off the bench every time.
- This game was played inside the arc to a surprising extent for both teams, especially for North Carolina, who launches a fair amount of threes in ...basically every other game save this one. Credit to the guards who did a good job shutting down Ruffin-Pratt (who was anonymous and possibly injured; Mickey Dearstone wasn't much help on that), Brittany Roundtree, Latifah Coleman, and anyone else who wasn't in the paint.
- The bench ended up getting emptied with 7 minutes to go in the second half. Yeah, it was that kind of game. Against a top 25 squad. And the lead kept increasing. (Well, Simmons was still in the game.)
- For the record: Simmons went 3-11 in the second half.
- Seriously, this bears repeating. I have no clue how this team lost to UT-Chattanooga after a game like this. This was outright domination; 10-point stable lead by 6 minutes into the game, 20-point stable lead with 11:40 to go in the game, then 30-point stable lead with 6 minutes left in the game. and - for good measure - popped the 40-point barrier with 2 minutes to go. This is what good teams do against overmatched opponents (or, y'know, what James Franklin does against Tennessee this year, but there weren't any rub-it-in timeouts), and they didn't let up.