Meighan Simmons scored 20 points and second-seeded Tennessee gave its coach a victory over the school where she played, beating 15th-seeded Tennessee-Martin 72-49 Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Glory Johnson added 14 points and 12 rebounds as Tennessee (25-8) pulled away in the second half. The Lady Vols set up a meeting with the DePaul-Brigham Young winner on Monday, hoping for their first Final Four run since winning the championship in 2008.
The Lady Vols vowed to get back there and win a ninth NCAA title for Summitt, who shook the sport with her announcement in August that she has early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. Earlier this week, the icon with the most wins in NCAA history said she wasn’t sure she would coach beyond the season.
On the court, it hasn’t been easy for the Lady Vols.
There were lopsided losses at Stanford and Notre Dame. They blew a halftime lead while dropping a close game at home to Baylor, the top seed in the region. But they seem to be hitting their stride just in time, breezing to their third straight SEC title and following up with a win on Saturday—their 14th in 16 games against Tennessee-Martin (23-9).
Tennessee dominated on the boards 52-39 and shut down the nation’s top scoring team, holding the Skyhawks to just under 29 percent shooting.
The Lady Vols didn’t exactly light it up from the floor at 40 percent, but they made enough shots down the stretch after a slow start.
Heather Butler, the nation’s third-leading scorer, had a rough afternoon for Tennessee-Martin, finishing with just 14 points—about 10 below her average. She was 5 for 25 from the floor, including 1 for 8 on 3-pointers, and with no one else picking up the slack, the Skyhawks came up short.
They were within six after Butler started the second half with a 3, but Tennessee scored eight straight to take control at 43-29. It was 50-33 after Simmons made a 3 with 12:36 remaining, and the Lady Vols were in control after that.
They can’t relax, though.
They’re eyeing another big run and trying to bring their Final Four drought to an end. The only player left from the championship team is Vicki Baugh, who’s in her fifth year. The rest of the seniors are trying to avoid becoming the first group to go four years at Tennessee without a trip to the Final Four.