For the last two years, Pat Summitt has been looking for a leader to take charge of the team and make things happen when the breaks were against them. Tonight, for one night, her answer came from a true freshman in her first start as Meighan Simmons laid 22 points and 8 rebounds against the Lady Cardinals to save the win on a very turnover-prone night.
Louisville was hosting the Lady Vols in front of a capacity crowd in their new Yum! Center. WIth all the energy in the stadium and the excitement of the new season, both teams promptly played nervous, overbearing basketball to the tune of a combined 51 turnovers (29 on UT and 22 on Louisville). Many of the turnovers were unforced and were simply the result of trying too hard, but neither team ever truly settled down throughout the night.
The defining moment of the game came when Louisville has just shrunk a 9-point Tennessee lead down to 1 point. At 45-44 with just over 7 minutes to go, Meighan Simmons pulled an Atlas and scored 8 quick points in 36 seconds (a two, a three, and a three) to re-establish the nine-point lead. While Louisville did manage to close the gap to 5 points with four minutes left, they had too many fouls on too many starters and couldn't slow down the Lady Vols in the closing minutes. With Louisville missing shots and Tennessee making theirs, the lead continually expanded to the 13-point final difference.
Aside from Simmons, the game-save for Tennessee was Summitt's most cherished stat: rebounds. Tennessee out-rebounded Louisville 53 to 29 to atone for poor shooting and the myriad of turnovers. Much of that was due to Tennessee's superior size when Cain and Baugh were in, but even the diminutive Simmons made her mark with 8 rebounds - 6 of them off the offensive glass.
- Simmons, obviously, who was the player of the game in her first start ever as a Lady Vol. Keep an eye on this one.
- Stricklen, who had a double-double on the night and played the most controlled game of any Lady Vol.
- The rest of the team, who committed a lot of turnovers and had a lot of fouls in the interior. Some of the fouls may have been due to tight refs, but they still needed to adjust to the calling.
- Passing. Lots of unforced turnovers on wild passes.
- Three-point shooting. Until Simmons went on her bender, the team was only 2 for roughly 15 from beyond the arc. The game wouldn't have been close of the Ladies had merely shot meh from three-point distance.
The team has some work to do, but the defense was played hard and the rebounding was there. They showed a lot of hustle tonight, which was a huge relief to see. This team will get there, but that kind of ugliness has to end. With three home games against Chattanooga, Virginina, and Arizona State, they'll have plenty of opportunity to improve.
A win's a win, and we'll happily take this one. Good work, gals.