“We considered just pulling her out,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said.
Good thing she didn’t
Simmons caught fire and hit three consecutive 3-pointers, ending an Ole Miss rally and sealing a 77-65 victory for the Volunteers.
“I knew that some way, somehow, I just had to keep shooting,” Simmons said. “My teammates and my coaches were pushing me to keep shooting.”
Tennessee (19-4, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) was 26 of 61 from the floor (42.6 percent) and finished 18 of 21 from the free throw line.
Ole Miss (10-14, 1-9) challenged a few times in the first half, and even led for brief stretches, but Tennessee ended the half on an 18-9 run and led 37-28 at the break.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were a virtual stalemate. The Rebels kept the gap to single digits, but couldn’t keep Tennessee off the boards.
Then the Volunteers found Simmons.
“You never want to lose Simmons,” Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said. “She’s a player very similar (Ole Miss men’s basketball star) Marshall Henderson. She can miss five shots in a row and then turn around and hit five in a row.”
Simmons, battling illness, had been off her mark for most of the game. But on three consecutive possessions she buried 3-pointers, powering an 11-0 run that broke open the game.
“We should have closed out more,” Ole Miss forward Tia Faleru said. “We knew where she was at but we were a little late getting there.”
Ole Miss never mounted another serious challenge.
“That separated us,” Warlick said. “They had a lot of energy and we weren’t very highly motivated. She was the difference-maker.”
Ole Miss moved the ball well and played at a higher level of intensity for most of the game. Much like their last two wins, against Arkansas and Alabama, the Volunteers appeared at times to be disorganized and lackadaisical on defense.
“We relax. We just think the game is over and let’s all do our thing,” Warlick said. “I don’t have an answer. The kids were here before me. There’s two ends of the floor. You can’t rely all on your offense.”
But Tennessee’s size was too much to overcome for the smaller, faster Rebels. The Volunteers outrebounded Ole Miss 43-34 and score 21 second-chance points.
“We’ve got big strong kids, and we like to pound it inside,” Warlick said. “If we didn’t look to go inside-out I wouldn’t be doing my job.”
Isabelle Harrison had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Volunteers. Cierra Burdick added 12 points, going 6 of 6 from the free throw line.
Tia Faleru led Ole Miss with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Gracie Frizzell scored 15 points, including four 3-pointers. Valencia McFarland and Danielle McCray had 10 points apiece and McFarland added 10 assists.
The Rebels finished 25 of 62 from the floor (40.3 percent) and had 19 assists.
No. 6 SOUTH CAROLINA 71,
MISSISSIPPI STATE 64
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Aleighsa Welch scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, Elem Ibiam blocked a career-high seven shots and No. 6 South Carolina beat Mississippi State 71-64 Thursday night.
The Gamecocks (21-2, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) tied a school record with 14 blocked shots. Alaina Coates added three blocked shots.
South Carolina appeared to have the game in hand with a 52-40 lead midway through the second half, but Mississippi State pulled within 55-54 with 6:25 remaining.
The game stayed tight until the final minute when Tina Roy hit a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left to put the Gamecocks ahead 66-59.
Mississippi State (16-8, 3-7) lost for just the third time at home this season. Jerica James led the Bulldogs with 11 points. Martha Alwal and Savannah Carter both added 10.
No. 5 Duke, 78
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Haley Peters scored 17 points, Tricia Liston had 15 points and 10 rebounds and No. 5 Duke bounced back from their first Atlantic Coast Conference defeat with its 18th straight win over Clemson, 78-51 on Thursday night.
The Blue Devils (22-2, 9-1 ACC) fell to new league rival Notre Dame 88-67 last Sunday and trailed Clemson (11-13, 3-7) late in the first half of this one. But Duke put together a 32-12 run starting in the final minute before halftime to take control.
It was Peters’ first double-figure showing in three games while Liston posted her third game this season with double figures in points and rebounds.
The Blue Devils held Clemson’s top scorer, Nikki Dixon, to 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting. Dixon had been averaging better than 14 points a game this season.
Richa Jackson had 13 points and Ka’lia Johnson added 10 for Duke.