Feb. 25, 2014
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- On the heels of a 56-50 victory at Mizzou Arena against Missouri, the Tennessee Lady Vol basketball team will look to tie this season's series against LSU (18-9, 7-7) when they travel to Baton Rouge, La., on Thursday. The Tigers handed UT (22-5, 11-3) its first home loss of the 2013-14 season back in January, winning 80-77, but the Lady Vols are focused to come back with a victory.
BATTLE IN THE BAYOU
Realizing that a late rally wasn't enough to defeat the Lady Tigers last month, the Lady Vols know their purpose going into this game: they must start off strong.
"I think we just have to come out and just play Tennessee basketball like we've been doing," senior guard Meighan Simmons said. "We have to come out with a lot of energy. We are playing at their home and they have great fans just as much as we do, so we just have to go out there and play hard."
Thursday's game isn't just a pride game for the Lady Vols. With the SEC tournament next week, every game is a significant game.
"LSU is a good SEC team that came and beat us on our home floor," redshirt freshman guard Andraya Carter said. "There is just a lot of motivation. We have to come out and play well."
"We are going to want to come out with a sense of urgency no matter what defensive scheme we try to do. That energy that we had during the final few minutes of the game (in January) is what we are going to focus on more. We want more energy, attitude and heart."
Since the Lady Vols' loss to the Tigers on Jan. 2, the team has grown and handled late-game adversity in new ways.
"This team has changed a ton," Carter said. "We play hard. We have started working together and peaking. We have been just building since the LSU game. We have been learning from our losses. We are a completely different team."
Thursday's game will also be meaningful for LSU as it is Senior Night for the Tigers. LSU has lost four straight games, and Tennessee expects a hard fight in the Maravich Center.
Leading the Tiger squad is senior Theresa Plaisance who is averaging 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in SEC play. She scored 15 against UT in the first meeting while her sophomore teammate Danielle Ballard dropped 25 points on the Lady Vols in Knoxville. Ballard is averaging 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds in league action.
HARRISON'S DOMINANCE ON THE COURT
Being inside the paint is what every basketball team works hard in practice to achieve and getting inside the paint is what center Isabelle Harrison does.
"Izzy is one of our leaders on the team, especially in the post area," Simmons said.
Despite being forced to the bench at times with foul trouble Harrison is averaging 14.0 points and 8.6 rebounds in SEC play this season.
With a late Thursday night game against LSU, the Lady Vols will need to see the Nashville, Tenn., native on the floor, doing what Carter says she does best.
"Izzy is so dominant in the paint that her presence on the court is a huge deal," Carter said.
"Izzy brings that extra 'oomph," Simmons said. "She gets a lot of rebounds. She has great communication. She is always talking out there on the floor and we really need her out there."
Against Mizzou last Sunday, Harrison found herself in early foul trouble, limiting playing time for the junior. But the 18 minutes where Harrison was utilized were vital for the Orange & White.
"I think she came in and made a difference for us in the amount of time she was in," head coach Holly Warlick said. "She's going to have to have to stay in the game against LSU. We need her, we need her defensive presence. I think she gives us a comfort level when she's on the offensive end. We're going to have to watch her and make sure she doesn't get any unnecessary fouls."
"When anyone goes down, we try to make up for losing them," Carter said. "She is an asset to our team. We want her out there with us."
SENIOR DAY FOR SIMMONS AROUND THE CORNER
Looking ahead to Tennessee's matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Sunday, it will be the last regular-season home game of Meighan Simmons' career donning the Orange & White.
The senior out of Cibolo, Texas, and reigning SEC Co-Player of the Year has been a key component for the Lady Vols' success throughout her four years on Rocky Top.
"Meighan has had to come in and carry a lot of the load since she was a freshman," Warlick said. "The expectations for her were really high because we needed an offensive player who could come in and make plays, and she did not disappoint. She has grown up so much and her game has gotten well rounded. She's distributing the ball more."
Simmons has played in 135 games for Tennessee, starting in 119 of those contests while racking up 1,911 career points heading into this weekend's matchups. With two regular-season games remaining, along with the postseason, she is just 89 points from being the fifth Lady Vol to break the 2,000-point plateau during her career.
Among league players, Simmons is tied for sixth in scoring, averaging 16.8 points. She's shooting 45 percent (85-189) in field goals, ranking her fifth in the SEC. The point guard also leads all conference players in 3-point field goal percentage, connecting on 43 percent (35-81) of her attempts beyond the arc.
"Right now as a senior, I think she's playing a complete game," Warlick said. "I know how much this program means to her and I think her teammates understand that, too. I think they rally around her. It will be strange seeing her as the senior on the court, but she's done a heck of a job for us here at Tennessee."
SEC CLOSE-OUT WITH SOUTH CAROLINA
Tennessee faces South Carolina on Sunday, marking both Senior Day and a chance to take down the Gamecocks who have been atop the SEC standings this season.
USC only has one conference loss this year, a 67-65 overtime loss at Texas A&M on Jan. 16. The Lady Vols riled up the league standings in January when they defeated the Aggies, in a 76-55 showdown in College Station, Texas, handing Texas A&M its first home loss of the season and its first loss in the SEC in 2013-14.
With Tennessee and Texas A&M tied for second among the standings, Georgia has a chance to shake things up on Thursday when the Bulldogs face South Carolina in Columbia.
"We had our chance to control our destiny and we lost," Warlick said. "It's in someone else's hands now. It's in Georgia's fate and what they do. I would love for Georgia to beat them, absolutely. But it's not even a contest if we don't take care of LSU.
"We had our opportunities and now we have to hope that Georgia can beat South Carolina so that we can get a chance at them but right now our focus is on LSU."
While South Carolina and Georgia will be playing Thursday, Tennessee will be focusing only on the game at task with LSU.
"We might want to hear about it after our game," Carter said. "Whether they win or lose, we have to play basketball the same way. We need to bring it every night."