No. 9 Lady Vols rout cold-shooting Missouri 84-39

STEVE MEGARGEE AP Sports Writer Published:

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Missouri's uptempo approach played right into the hands of Meighan Simmons and No. 9 Tennessee.

Simmons scored 18 points Thursday as the Lady Vols used their suffocating defense to trounce Missouri 84-39 for their fifth consecutive victory. Tennessee never trailed while capitalizing on the fast pace.

"I just love that kind of play," Simmons said. "I love (going) up and down. I love being able to get a steal and keep it going. They consider me the Energizer bunny. I feed off games like that. It brings out our strengths."

Tennessee (12-3, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) also neutralized Missouri's greatest strength by cooling off the nation's most prolific 3-point shooting attack.

The Tigers (12-5, 1-2) had set an SEC record with 18 3-pointers Sunday in an 82-77 victory over Auburn and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc that day. Missouri headed into Thursday's game leading the nation with 10 3-pointers per game.

But the Tigers were misfiring from everywhere Thursday.

Missouri shot 19.7 percent overall by going 9 of 36 on 3-pointers and 4 of 30 from inside the arc. The Tigers' 36 3-point attempts were the most ever by a Tennessee opponent.

Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said she made sure to remind her players about the fact that Missouri was coming off a record-setting performance from 3-point range.

"When you have a team that shoots the 3-ball the way they do, they're never out of the game," Warlick said. "That was our No. 1 priority, not to let them shoot the 3-ball the way they do."

Missouri had to rely on the 3-pointer again Thursday because Tennessee didn't let the Tigers get opportunities near the basket. Missouri made just one basket from inside the 3-point arc the entire first half.

The Tigers missed their first 11 shots from 2-point range before Bri Kulas scored off an inbounds pass with 3:59 remaining until halftime. Tennessee center Isabelle Harrison and forward Bashaara Graves made sure Missouri rarely took an uncontested shot from near the basket.

"We're such a presence in there, you know, it affects their shots," Harrison said.

Harrison scored 12 points, pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds and blocked four shots. Graves had 16 points and eight rebounds. Taber Spani added 11 points for Tennessee.

The Lady Vols outscored Missouri 40-6 in points in the paint, 24-5 in points off turnovers, 22-0 in second-chance points and 21-2 in fast-break points.

Morgan Eye led Missouri with 18 points while shooting 6 of 17 from 3-point range. Her 17 3-point attempts were the most by any women's player at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Lady Vols' home floor since the 1987-88 season. Eye was 11 of 18 from beyond the arc against Auburn, finishing one shy of the NCAA single-game record for 3s made.

"I felt that I had a few girls chasing me hard off screens, and my teammates did a good job to just keep screening me," Eye said. "I still got some pretty good looks; I felt like, and I credit my teammates for that."

The Lady Vols built a 48-21 halftime advantage by scoring nearly at will in the first 14 minutes. Harrison almost had a double-double in the first half alone with nine points and 11 rebounds.

Both teams favor a fast pace, and the Lady Vols thrived on Missouri's willingness to run up and down the floor with them.

"That's the way we play every day," Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. "That's the way we'll continue to play."

Tennessee cooled off significantly from there. The Lady Vols scored just six points in the final six minutes of the first half and missed nine of their first 10 shots in the second half, but Missouri's cold shooting prevented the Tigers from cutting the lead below 25 points.

After going 5 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half, Missouri was just 4 of 22 from beyond the arc the rest of the way. The Tigers continued firing away from 3-point range and could never get anything going inside the arc against a punishing Tennessee defense.

But Tennessee's lackluster performance early in the second half allowed Warlick to offer her players constructive criticism even as they celebrated a one-sided victory.

"I thought in the second half we let up," Warlick said. "By no means was I talking (to them) to run up the score, but I just want us to play hard all the time. Regardless of who you're playing, our effort has to be consistent."