No. 3 Lady Vols trounce Tennessee State 94-43

Tennessee hasn’t started a season this well since its last

national championship.

Bashaara Graves scored 17 points to lead five Tennessee players

in double figures and the third-ranked Lady Vols remained unbeaten

with a 94-43 victory over Tennessee State on Tuesday night.

The Lady Vols (10-0) have won each of their games by at least

nine points. Tennessee also started 10-0 in 2007-08 before losing

73-69 in overtime to Stanford, which happens to be the Lady Vols’

next opponent.

”We knew we were 9-0, and we knew we wanted to take another

step to get to the national championship level,” Tennessee guard

Meighan Simmons said.

Tennessee will put its perfect record to the test Saturday when

it heads west to face the sixth-ranked Cardinal. The Lady Vols’

only previous game against a Top 25 foe was an 81-65 victory Nov.

11 at No. 14 North Carolina, which was ranked 12th at the time.

They’ve outscored their 10 opponents by an average of 24.8

points.

”For the most part, we’ve played hard,” Tennessee coach Holly

Warlick said. ”The opponent shouldn’t matter. You’re working on

yourself and how you get better, and get better as a team.”

Tennessee benefited Tuesday from a balanced attack.

Graves made all six of her shots from the floor and was 5 of 6

from the free-throw line. Simmons added 13 points. Cierra Burdick,

Isabelle Harrison and Mercedes Russell had 12 points apiece. Rachel

Allen also scored 12 points to lead Tennessee State (3-8).

All nine of Tennessee’s healthy players scored at least six

points. A facial injury prevented Jasmine Jones from playing

against Tennessee State, though Warlick expects the sophomore

forward back for the Stanford game.

”We definitely wanted to come out and play Lady Vol

basketball,” Burdick said. ”That’s something we’ve been

struggling with in past games, playing down to our competition. We

can’t do that. We’ve got to come out and play to our potential

every single night. That’s the sign of a great team.”

Tennessee sprinted to a 14-1 lead in the first four minutes and

never looked back. The Lady Tigers missed 23 of their first 26

shots and trailed 42-9 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the first

half.

Tennessee State shot just 1 of 22 from 3-point range and was 14

of 74 overall.

The Lady Vols seemingly could do whatever they wanted Tuesday.

At one point, Simmons tossed an inbounds pass off the backside of a

Tennessee State player and retrieved the ball for an easy

layup.

”I think we were just having fun,” Burdick said. ”Lately

we’ve been so uptight, worrying about not doing the wrong things.

It takes away from our play and takes away from what we can do as

players. We just tried to go out, have fun, enjoy the game. We keep

being reminded this is a gift. It’s a gift to lace up these

sneakers. It’s a gift to put on this jersey. We don’t take that for

granted.”

Tennessee State had won its last two games by double digits,

over North Florida and NAIA program Martin Methodist, but the Lady

Tigers were facing an entirely different level of competition

Tuesday.

A look at the rosters underscored the challenge facing Tennessee

State.

Tennessee State didn’t have a single starter taller than 6 feet.

Six of Tennessee’s 10 players are 6-2 or taller. The Lady Vols were

coming off a 103-64 victory over Troy in which they had pulled down

74 rebounds, the second-highest total in school history. Tennessee

entered the night with a plus-15 rebound margin, while Tennessee

State was at minus-6.7.

The Lady Vols outrebounded Tennessee State 58-35 and outscored

the Lady Tigers 54-24 in the paint. Tennessee’s block total (11)

nearly matched Tennessee State’s basket total (11). Russell, the

Lady Vols’ 6-foot-6 freshman center, had six blocks.

”Of course, their size, I thought that was the big difference

in the game,” Tennessee State coach Larry Joe Inman said. ”I

thought like it affected what we did. I thought their transition

game hurt us. I thought they exploited a lot of our

weaknesses.”

In the teams’ two previous games, the Lady Vols also breezed to

easy victories: 114-63 in 1985-86 and 104-51 in 1987-88.