Feb. 14, 2014
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The Lady Vols are coming off their biggest victory over in-state rival Vanderbilt since 1999 as they ride a six-game win streak. UT welcomes Kentucky to Thompson-Boling Arena for a 1 p.m. ET matchup on Sunday for the "Live Pink, Bleed Orange" game. Fans are encouraged to wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness and honoring the fight against breast cancer.
LIVE PINK, BLEED ORANGE
Sunday's game is the "Live Pink, Bleed Orange" outing, dedicated to those who have been affected by breast cancer.
"It means a lot," senior guard Meighan Simmons said. "For the people who struggle with breast cancer and things like that, and just be able to represent them on that day. It's just one of those things where I have to play for them as well and just represent them very well."
For head coach Holly Warlick, the game has deep meaning, as her sister, Marion Ferrill, is a breast cancer survivor.
"It's affected family, friends and former Lady Vols," Warlick said. "It makes a huge statement when we can get on this stage with a large amount of people. We want to make sure we can do it right. Our goal is to find a cure and raise awareness. That's what we want to use that platform for."
WELCOMING THE WILDCATS
The cross state-line rivalry between Tennessee and Kentucky has been long-standing. But aside from the rivalry, there are many ties between the two programs. Lady Vol assistant coach Kyra Elzy spent 2008-12 as assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Wildcats before joining the UT staff, while current graduate assistant Amber Smith also spent the same four years, 2008-12, playing for Kentucky.
Former Lady Vol Shalon Pillow is in her fifth season as assistant coach for Kentucky. Pillow played at Tennessee from 1998-2002, overlapping years with Elzy and current Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell, who was a graduate assistant on Rocky Top from 1999-00.
The Wildcats enter the matchup 18-6 overall with a 6-5 mark in SEC play.
"You throw the record out of where they are in the SEC," Warlick said. "They're athletic, they're competitive. We have a competitive history with them. It's two athletic teams and two teams that rebound the basketball are going to play each other. There's a lot at stake."
"We don't underestimate them - they always give 110 percent when they come here and when we play against each other so I'm just expecting a great game," Simmons said. "It's going to be really exciting; I'm ready to see how well we handle adversity and how well we handle their pressure and their intensity on the defensive ends."
HIGH OFF VANDY WIN
The Lady Vols took back the state with their 81-53 victory over in-state rival Vanderbilt last Sunday. Tennessee wants to make sure to keep building on the momentum of the team's play.
"Assistant Coach Dean Lockwood said it best, 'do we want it to be a moment, or do we want it to be a standard?' We want it to be a standard," junior forward Cierra Burdick said. "We want to continue to play at that level. The coaches, fans and formers players all loved the performance. We loved playing that way. For once, we played a full 40 minutes of basketball to our fullest potential. It started with our defense, which was incredible. We have to continue to uphold that standard and play like that every single game."
Tennessee's 28-point victory over the Lady Commodores was the biggest win against VU since 1999. UT has seen the rewards of when its defense and offense come together.
"They've always told us to keep pushing, keep our pedal to the medal and continue to work hard in practice," Simmons said. "They've been having a lot of expectations, I mean there is a standard now, of how we played now. Dean said yesterday, now we know what we are capable of, now we know what it means to play Tennessee Lady Vol basketball, and when we go out there and when we do that, it's so much fun. When we played against them, my adrenaline was flowing, I was out there, we were all out there, we were smiling, we were running with a lot of energy so if we can continue to do that, nothing can stop us."
SIX-GAME WIN STREAK ON THE HOME STRETCH
Tennessee started the season a perfect 10-0 before suffering its first loss at Stanford. The Lady Vols are currently enjoying a six-game winning streak, but are taking note of the differences between the two spans of victories.
"We're playing Lady Vol basketball," Burdick said. "At first, we were sliding by, playing one half, not playing the other half. Now, we're playing a full 40 minutes of basketball. We looked back on the film against Vandy on the first time we played them and we were like `Is that really us?' It was awful. They were getting lay-up after lay-up. Now, we're finally beginning to play Lady Vol basketball and it's exciting. It's a great part of the season to pick up the stride."
After falling to Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium on Jan. 12, UT has gone on a seven-game win streak in SEC action.
"At the beginning of SEC is where I knew that we were going to need to have that extra 'oomph' out there and play poised because we knew every team was going to give 110 percent," Simmons said. "I think we've done that very well, we have handled adversity very well, we played poised and played composed. That was one of the things that was the biggest turning point at that time."
SIMMONS' STRONG PLAY
Senior Meighan Simmons has been a key component for the Lady Vols success this season. The guard from Cibolo, Texas, was named to the Naismith Trophy Midseason Top 30 this week, marking the third time in her career she has been named to the list.
"I am just being confident, trying to play within the system and doing the little things," Simmons said. "I am trying to get my teammates involved early on and stay within the play. I want to go out there, play hard, be able to step up and be a leader out there on the floor."
In the last seven outings, Simmons has scored 20 or more points in five of the games. Since junior point guard Ariel Massengale has been out since Florida on Jan. 23, Simmons has stepped up her leadership and game even more.
"Now I've just been a lot more confident in myself, knowing when I need to shoot, what shots are good, what shots are bad and being able to go out there and play," Simmons said. "It's just been a lot of fun lately."
"I think Meighan is really focused right now and understands it's a team effort," Coach Holly Warlick said. "At the beginning of the year she felt the weight of the team on her. I think she's moved past that. She's taking great shots and playing within our offense. She's playing with a lot of confidence and our players have a lot of confidence in her. "
With the help of Tennessee's post players, Simmons has been able to get more looks and shots in the games.
"She's one of the best shooters in the country, no doubt about that," Burdick said. "We have some great plays to get her the ball. She's doing a great job of creating shots for herself. I think our posts have played a critical part in her success as well because they're getting doubled and tripled, and they're finding the open shooters. That's huge. Our posts are making our shooters, shooters."