After a slow start to open the season, senior guard Meighan Simmons found her mark on the offensive end of the court in the No. 3 Lady Vols' 84-50 win over Oakland on Sunday afternoon in Thompson-Boling Arena.
UT's lone senior scored a season-high 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field and gave the team a much-needed boost at the end of the first half.
"I think Meighan is a volume shooter," second-year head coach Holly Warlick said. "I thought she shot the ball really well tonight."
While she shot over 40 percent for the first time this season, her offensive game wasn't the only thing that impressed Warlick.
The senior also contributed on defense with three steals.
"She has really focused on her defense and I've been really proud of her over the last couple of games of what she is trying to do for this team," Warlick said. "Everybody knows she is a great offensive player, but she has really taken this team on and she has put this team first.
"Her overall game has gotten better because of the focus on the defensive end."
In the first half of the action, the Golden Grizzlies (0-5) held their own with the Lady Vols (5-0).
Olivia Nash's three-pointer highlighted a 16-3 run by Oakland and brought the score to 28-27 with just more than two minutes left in the first half.
Then, with nine seconds left in the half, Simmons found separation from her defender in the right corner of the court behind the 3-point line and sent in her second shot from long range of the first half off an assist from junior point guard Ariel Massengale.
Simmons' basket to end the first period extended the Lady Vols lead to seven over the Golden Grizzlies.
Tennessee made a point quickly to begin the second half, as the squad opened the final period with a 15-0 run Simmons capped with an open jump shot off an assist from Bashaara Graves.
"Coach Warlick told us in the locker room that in 45 seconds to start the second half we scored seven points," Massengale said. "All of those points came off our defense. We need to take that to heart and realize that defense is what wins ball games and championships."
Graves also had a big night on the court. The sophomore forward finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds for her second double-double in as many games.
"We take a lot of pride in our rebounding and on second chance points and we didn't go hard to the boards in the first half," Warlick said of her team, who was out-rebounded 24-20 in the first period. "It's hard to rebound well when you are quick shooting. The second half we settled down and got back to what we are capable of."
Massengale also showed up big on the stat sheet as she scored 11 points and had six assists.
The game allowed Tennessee to extend its victory streak to five games for the start of the season.
"We are not walking around knowing that we are undefeated," Warlick said. "We just have to keep that maturity about us. We need to keep stressing our defensive play."
The Lady Vols now gear up for their trip over Thanksgiving break to Freeport, Bahamas where they will play in the Junkanoo Jam Classic. UT opens play on Thursday against Virginia.
"We just have to keep working hard and striving to put together a complete 40-minute performance," Massengale said. "Defense is the No. 1 thing on our minds."