Simmons scored 26 points as No. 10 Tennessee trounced Auburn 93-63 on Thursday night for the Lady Vols’ seventh victory in their last eight games. The 5-foot-9 senior averaged 26.5 points in Tennessee’s two victories over Auburn last season.
“No explanation,” Simmons said. “I just try to come out and play hard. It’s not ever about me. It’s really about the team. I just want to do whatever I can to kind of help the team win, just do my role and pay attention to what I need to do out there on the floor and just be a leader.”
Simmons sparked an early 19-0 run and had 25 points in the game’s first 21 minutes, 42 seconds before cooling off down the stretch. She made 10 of her first 15 shots before missing her last seven attempts with the game well out of reach.
“(I’m) very happy she’s a senior,” Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “I’ll look forward to watching her in the pros.”
This game continued a torrid stretch for Simmons, who has scored at least 20 points in six of her last nine games and has averaged 19.8 points over that span. Simmons moved into seventh place on Tennessee’s all-time scoring list with 1,891 career points.
She had six rebounds and five assists to go along with her 26 points Thursday.
“When the ball was leaving her hand, I thought it was in just about every time,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “I keep saying this, Meighan’s taking great looks for Meighan. She really is. I don’t see her taking a lot of bad shots right now. She had five assists, and I’m probably more proud of her because she had six rebounds. I’ve tried to get her to get on the boards.”
Cierra Burdick added 19 points and seven rebounds for the Lady Vols (21-5, 10-3 SEC). Andraya Carter had 12 points. Isabelle Harrison added 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Tyrese Tanner scored 15 points for Auburn (14-12, 5-8). Tra’Cee Tanner had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Brandy Montgomery scored 12 and Hasina Muhammad added 10.
Tennessee has won 23 of its last 25 games in this series. Auburn has lost 16 straight road games to Tennessee since winning 71-68 in Knoxville on Jan. 9, 1988.
This latest victory couldn’t improve Tennessee’s position in the SEC standings. The Lady Vols remain two games behind No. 4 South Carolina (24-2, 12-1) and one game behind No. 16 Texas A&M (21-6, 11-2), who both won Thursday night.
“We’ve got to control what we can control,” Burdick said. “We can’t worry about other teams. Obviously we see what’s going on in our conference, but we’ve got to focus on getting us better and continuing to improve.”
The Lady Vols were coming off a 22-turnover performance in a 75-71 loss to No. 15 Kentucky, which was ranked 18th at the time of their Sunday meeting. The Lady Vols spent the week emphasizing the importance of taking care of the ball against Auburn, which entered the night with an SEC-leading 11.2 steals per game in league competition.
As it turned out, Auburn’s turnovers proved more costly.
Tennessee broke open a 13-11 game by going on a 19-0 run during which Auburn committed five turnovers in a 6 ½-minute stretch. Tennessee outscored Auburn 29-10 in points off turnovers.
“We weren’t really thinking about what we could do with them,” Carter said. “We just wanted to play Lady Vol basketball, and that ended up forcing turnovers because when we’re all playing hard and all playing together, that’s the result.”
Simmons scored Tennessee’s last 10 points during that 19-0 spurt. She also scored seven straight points during the closing minutes of the first half. She capped that flurry by converting a midcourt steal into a fast-break layup. By halftime, Simmons already had 19 points to give Tennessee a 54-33 advantage.
Simmons added a pair of 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the second half as Tennessee built a 27-point lead. She scored just one more point the rest of the way, but the Lady Vols still led by as many as 38 and ended up with their largest margin of victory in an SEC game this season.