The No. 1 seeded Lady Vols have hit the road to the Sweet 16 in Louisville as the Tennessee basketball program continues their 'Grind For Nine'.
After playing her first game of her career at the KFC Yum! Center senior guard Meighan Simmons will return to the arena where she scored 22 points and hauled in a career-high eight rebounds in a 63-50 win against the Louisville Cardinals back in 2010.
"It's perfect timing," Simmons said. "... It's exciting to go back to where my career started. Everything has just fallen into place and its perfect timing."
What she remembers most about that night is what UT head coach emeritus Pat Summitt told her before the game.
"I remember Pat just encouraging me to come out and play hard," Simmons said. "She was telling me not to be nervous, not to be worried and that she was going to play me.
Before the game she did have jitters like any freshman would.
"I told her coach I'm a little worried," Simmons said, "but I knew I had the ability to get out there and play I just needed to hear that from her just to give me that extra 'oomph' that when I did get out there on the court I gave it my 110 percent."
Now the ride has come full circle for Simmons, who will enter the game against Maryland with 2,033 career points, one of five Lady Vols to ever do so, and has hit 251 career three-pointers.
"She is going to go down as one of the best shooters in Tennessee history," second-year UT head coach Holly Warlick said. "She's brought her game when our backs have been against the wall. She started off her career in Louisville and was the team-leading scorer. She has been very valuable as far as leadership, competitiveness, and what she brings to the table offensively."
Her teammates and coaches realize her importance to the team, but they want her to continue to keep doing what she has done all season, which is not put all the pressure on her shoulders.
"She's not playing as tense," junior forward Isabelle Harrison said of the biggest difference in her lone senior teammate. "She use to have that mentality that she had to do everything and it just makes you think too much. We don't want to put it all on Meighan, we all want to help and she wants to play with no worries either."
Simmons and her teammates are excited nonetheless as they search for their programs ninth National Championship and a trip to Nashville for the Final Four.
"We are excited to play and we're ready to get out there on the floor and play," she said. "We just have to take one game at a time."
Men And Women Both In Sweet 16
Tennessee is one of six schools to have both their men and women's basketball team reach the Sweet 16. Both teams have their full mindset on surviving and advancing.
"Both the boys and our team want to go as far as we can and put Tennessee in a place that we haven't been to in a while," Harrison said. "I've talked to Jarnell (Stokes) a lot about it and he just wants to do his best for his team and the coaches and I'm definitely in the same position as well."
Three freshmen playing in first Sweet 16
Jordan Reynolds, Mercedes Russell, and Andraya Carter will all be making their first appearances in the Sweet 16 and their senior leader believes they are ready for action.
"It's just a matter of coming out and playing hard," Simmons said. "It's not going to be easy like the games early on in the season. They just have to come out and be confident and stay focused."
Matchup With Maryland
On Sunday they will face off at noon against a No. 4 Maryland team that brings a potent offense to the table led by three-time ACC Player of the Year, Alyssa Thomas.
"They are a great team and they have good size and a great physicality to them," Harrison said. "I think our post presence is really good against them and can match up."