March 25, 2014
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Meighan Simmons got a moment she had always dreamed of in the final minutes of her 68th and final game in Thompson-Boling Arena Monday night.
The lone senior Lady Vol had been celebrated by friends, family and the fans weeks earlier when Senior Night was held in her honor prior to the win over South Carolina in the regular season finale. That night didn't have the usual finality with home games in the NCAA Tournament ahead.
But with 1:57 on the clock and the issue already decided, Simmons got her final moment. Freshman Jordan Reynolds rose from the scorer's table to enter the game in Simmons' place, prompting a standing ovation that Simmons had waited on since signing with Tennessee as a high school player from Cibolo, Texas.
"All I could do was smile," Simmons said of her reaction. "It's one of those things where it will always be a memorable moment in my life. The fans are just amazing. That's one thing that helped me make my decision to come here was the fan base. I couldn't be more happy with the way I played the last four years and how I've grown as a player. I was glad I was able to share the gift I have with the fans, my teammates and my coaches."
Simmons scored 17 points despite being limited to 26 minutes with foul trouble in the first and early in the second half. She also forced a pair of steals, both of which led to fast-break buckets that helped push the Lady Vol advantage as high as 21 points down the stretch. Each of those steals led to cheers, a thunder that reached its peak when Simmons finished each with a layup.
Her final home record will read 60-8, a perfect 6-0 in NCAA Tournament home games. She scored in double figures in all 18 Thompson-Boling contests this season.
"I will tell you this, that kid has been under just a tremendous amount of pressure since she has been here," Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. "As a freshman we asked her to step in and start and score a lot of points. So everybody's expectations have just been greatness for Meighan. I have just watched her grow. I love her respect for this program, her love for this university, love for these fans."
The fans felt the same way. After the ovation as she left the court, the fans in Thompson-Boling began chanting her name as Simmons smiled widely on the bench while the seconds ticked off the clock.
"I was speechless," she said of the moment.
An appropriate reaction for a player whose moves on the court have left Lady Vol fans feeling the same way.