For the second time this season the No. 4 Lady Vols overcame a rocky start in the first half against an in-state opponent as they defeated Chattanooga 80-56 in their home opener.
After falling on the road to the Lady Mocs last season, Tennessee was determined to avoid any sort of similar let down.
Junior point guard Ariel Massengale made sure of that.
For the second game in a row, the floor general led all game scorers with 16 points – while also dropping in four 3-pointers – and contributed five assists as well.
In her past two games she has now scored 36 points, knocked down nine 3-pointers and has answered her coach’s call to become the leader of the team.
“I worked into my confidence on the offensive end this summer,” Massengale said. “The coaches have always been talking to me about being an offensive threat and just having that confidence will take you a long way.”
The first half of action between the two in-state teams, which are separated by 114 miles, played out very close.
To begin the game the Lady Mocs (1-1) came out firing from deep early and often and found success in doing so.
UTC redshirt senior Faith Dupree, a former Tennessee Vol, put Chattanooga up 16-9 by hitting her open-look from 3-point land for her team’s fourth in the first 10 minutes of action.
The Lady Vols (3-0) answered right back as sophomore guard Andraya Carter accounted for five points in a 13-2 run.
Both teams would exchange baskets the rest of the half and went into the break with the game tied at 32 apiece.
“She told us if we don’t come out of this game with a win, our lives were not going to be pleasant over the next two days,” Massengale said of UT coach Holly Warlick’s message to the team at halftime. “We didn’t want that to happen so we turned it on and played ball.”
UTC hit six of its 10 three pointers in the game during the first half of play.
Similar to their season opener at Middle Tennessee State, the Lady Vols lit a spark at halftime and came out with energy on both sides of the ball in the final period.
After a diving stop to come up with a steal, Simmons dished off an assist while down on the court to a driving Bashaara Graves who laid it in off the glass to ignite the 10,508 in attendance at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“That play was huge for us and really got us going,” Simmons said. “I think that’s why the coaches are on us so much because that’s what we are capable of every possession. We could be so good if we just do the little things right.”
Soon after, Massengale sunk her third long range shot, and Jasmine Jones added her first field goal of the night to cap UT’s 21-4 run to open the second half.
From that point on, Tennessee did not look back as they coasted to their third straight victory to open the season.
“This is a good win for our team,” Warlick said. “We looked like we got winded early, but we had a lot of girls step up. Massengale got the ball rolling for us in the second half. This game is a great teaching take for us.”
The Lady Vols shot 32-of-66 (7-of-13 on 3-pointers) from the field.
Tennessee will now prepare to take on Georgia Tech who travels to Knoxville this Sunday.
Tipoff against the Yellow Jackets is set for 7 p.m.