As the game turned: After scoring 27 points in St. John's win against USC on Saturday night, Aliyyah Handford appeared to be well on her way towards that number again on Monday, as she gave the Lady Vols all they could handle.
With 11:33 left to play, the first-team All-Big East guard scored her 19th and 20th points to bring St. John's within two (43-41) in the second round game of the NCAA Tournament.
However, the Lady Vols were determined to not let their season come to an early close, as they settled down and forced seven straight stops on defense and received a boost from Bashaara Graves and Meighan Simmons, who came in off the bench after sitting for an extended time with three fouls.
After two misses by teammates at the hoop, the sophomore forward corralled the rebound, as she skied above her opposition for the basketball and went back up strong for the put back. After a 30-second timeout called by the Red Storm, she swiped the ball away and Cierra Burdick finished on the other end to put her team up by double digits.
The Lady Vol defense remained determined, as Simmons came up with two big steals of her own, and single-handedly took each down court, leaving her defender in the dust for easy layups.
Simmons scored 10 of her 17 points in the second half and helped her team pull away from what was a four-point game at halftime, as the Lady Vols coasted to a 67-51 victory.
The difference was simple for her and her teammates in the second half.
"It was enjoyable," Simmons said. "When we continue to be happy and have fun and everybody is out there smiling and chest bumping and enjoying themselves that's when we are at our best. When adversity hits we can't get down on ourselves. We have to continue to smile through adversity and push through everything. The game becomes a more fun and becomes a lot more easier throughout the game when everyones on the same page."
Spotlight: The game was a tale of two halves. In the second half the Lady Vols put together a 16-2 run that put them ahead 59-43 with 5:54 left to play. Simmons had eight points in the run.
"We have become smarter as a basketball team and have experienced every situation that you could go through," Burdick said. "We have bought in to the fact that defense and rebounding wins us basketball games. We don't just talk about it now we actually believe it."
The other guys: Aliyyah Handford finished her play in the tournament with a 23-point performance on 9-of-19 shooting from the field and was five-of-eight from the charity stripe. In St. John's two games she combined to score 50 points.
Outside the box score: With 1:57 left on the game clock, Simmons checked out of the game for the final time in Thompson-Boling Arena as a Lady Vol to the applause of the 5,961 fans in the crowd.
"Speechless," Simmons said. "All I could do was smile. It's just one of those things where it's always going to be a memorable moment in my life. The fans were just amazing. That's one thing that helped me make my decision to come here was them. I was glad that I was able to share the year that I've had with our fans, with my teammates and my coaches."
Say something: Assistant head coach Dean Lockwood on both the Lady Vols and men's basketball team making it to the Sweet 16: "Both of our programs are so close. It's so great to see it all come together. It takes time. People have to understand it takes time to put things together. You're going to have bumps in the road and some rough patches. The coaches know what they are doing. We are so excited about both of us making the Sweet 16."
By the numbers
39: The Lady Vols and St. John's were called for a combined 39 fouls in Monday's contest.
18: Junior center Isabelle Harrison recorded her 18th double-double of the season, scoring 10 points and corralling 11 rebounds in 28 minutes of action.
11: Tennessee registered 11 steals on the night, led by Andraya Carter, who had a game-high with four.