March 4, 2014
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Ending South Carolina's 10-game win streak on Sunday, the Tennessee Lady Vols took down the SEC regular-season champions in a 73-61 victory in Thompson-Boling Arena. With the win, UT secured a No. 2 seed in the league tournament this weekend in Duluth, Ga.
CARRYING OVER SOUTH CAROLINA WIN
The Lady Vols played one of their best games of the season against South Carolina, turning over a season-low seven balls.
"I think everyone knew their roles out there on the floor," senior Meighan Simmons said. "They knew what they needed to do. Everybody brought something different and I was very happy with how everybody came out, played and did the little things. We had very few turnovers, which I was very proud of. We rebounded the ball very well and that's something we're going to have to do in the NCAAs and especially the SECs."
Tennessee ended the regular-season on a four-game win streak, taking down Auburn, Missouri, LSU and South Carolina.
"I feel great about how we are playing," head coach Holly Warlick said. "We will have to carry over what we did Sunday, but I think these young ladies understand where we need to go and how we need to get there. I think that we have been totally focused in practice, and we work hard. We are not going long, but it's really efficient, and we are getting things done. If we keep working hard the way we've been doing, I feel pretty good about it."
"I think that if we take that mindset from Sunday's game and do it consistently we will do well in the tournament," junior Isabelle Harrison said.
PREPPING FOR THE SEC TOURNAMENT
Tennessee will face the winner of the Alabama/LSU game on Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Despite a strong finish in regular-season action, the Lady Vols are looking at the post-season as a new start with a clean slate.
"You always see different kinds of teams that go in and they all have different mindsets," Harrison said. "You're never going to see the same team that you were playing during the regular season."
"This is the perfect time to focus on us and I think it's up to us to see how well we handle adversity when the games do come," Simmons said. "Right now, I think we need to focus on us -- figure out what it is we need to do and be mentally prepared for any team that we play. I think it's just one of those things that we have to prepare ourselves now for the future to be great."
The Lady Vols are embracing and preparing for one game at a time, focusing on the task at hand.
"We've talked all year about one game at a time so it's the matter of getting past LSU and Alabama to get that next chance," Warlick said. "We are trying to not look back and not look ahead, just stay in the moment. I think that's been a great thing for us this year is to really focus on what we have to get done, take care of ourselves, get better with ourselves, and then we will prepare for our opponent."
Even though the team's mentality is one game at a time, UT still has the goal to return to Rocky Top with an SEC championship trophy.
"I really want us to finish with the SEC championship," Simmons said. "As a senior, it's something you always want to end your legacy on. I really think winning the SEC would help in possibly going on to the NCAAs and finishing in the Final Four would be great."
A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES
In 2012, the Lady Vols took home the SEC Tournament title. Last season, Tennessee battled injuries and was knocked off by Texas A&M in the semifinals.
"Freshman year, it was all-round a great experience," Harrison said. "We were a great team. Last year we had a lot of injuries. Andraya (Carter) and me were out. People were coming back from injuries. This year we have a complete team. All the teams I've been on are different but I have a lot of confidence in this team.
"We are a year older for the most part and hopefully a lot smarter basketball wise. I know that they are mindful of what is expected of them, and I think we are pretty focused right now."
The Lady Vols know having a healthy squad heading into postseason can make or break games.
"It's huge," head coach Holly Warlick said. "When you stay healthy, you have a chance, and I thought last year we stayed injured the majority of the time. Outside of Ariel (Massengale) we've been pretty good, and then we have had to have people step up, you know when Ariel went out. My hat's off to both Andraya (Carter) and Jordan (Reynolds), they've stepped up and carried this team, and that's a hard position to take over. I think they've done a great job."
TRIO EARNS ALL-SEC
Senior Meighan Simmons and junior Isabelle Harrison earned All-SEC First Team accolades, while redshirt freshman Andraya Carter was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. It is the second straight season Simmons has been honored on All-SEC First Team, and the first recognition for both Harrison and Carter.
"I was pretty excited when I found out about it," Harrison said. "It's my first award I've gotten at that caliber. Dean kept telling me that if I keep working hard things like that will come, and I'm glad it finally paid off."
The center from Nashville capped off SEC regular-season action with her 15th double-double this year, putting up a team-best 20 points with 15 rebounds. She led the league in field goal shooting percentage, finishing the season shooting 60.0 percent (87-145) from the field. Harrison also ranked second in rebounding in SEC games, averaging 9.1 boards per game.
"I'm just all around happy," Harrison said. "I'm glad that I was able to do it with my team, and with Meighan (Simmons) and Andraya (Carter) because we've been through so much this past year. You see how much people grow and develop, and I'm just proud of everyone on this team."
In league games only, Simmons averaged 17.6 points per game, fourth-best in the conference. She shot 46.2 percent from the field (fourth-best in the SEC), and 43.5 percent from beyond the arc (second in the league).
"It means a lot," Simmons said. "I really don't pay attention to the accolades. I just go out there and try to play as hard as I can and just let the accolades come. I don't like really talking about myself but I'm very grateful for being All-SEC First Team. It's a good feeling."
Carter has stepped up into the starting role after junior point guard Ariel Massengale went down with an injury in the Florida game. She has piloted UT to a 9-1 mark and closed out the regular season with 14 points and 0 turnovers in a 73-61 victory over No. 4/5 South Carolina.
"I'm proud of them," Warlick said. "I was excited for Meighan (Simmons) and really excited for Izzy (Isabelle Harrison), just because she has put in the time. She put in the time this summer to get healthy and to work hard, and I think you are seeing the results of her putting in a lot of time. I'm just happy for Andraya (Carter). She's been injury free as well, so it's good to see that they are rewarded for a lot of hard work."