By C. Coward
Final score from Des Moines: Tennessee 84, Kansas 73. The #LadyVols advance to their 25th Elite Eight and will take on the winner of BU/GT.
— Lady Vol Basketball (@LadyVol_Hoops) March 24, 2012
No. 2 seed Tennessee overcame a five-point halftime deficit to race past No. 11 Kansas after the break and reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament for the 25th time in school history. The 84-73 win in the Des Moines Regional came at the expense of the Jayhawks’ bid to win the first regional final in school history.
In giving head coach Pat Summitt her 1,098th win, the Lady Vols climbed back from being down by as many as 14 points in the first half.
“We came out too sluggish,” said sophomore guard Meighan Simmons of the Lady Vols’ first half effort. “We didn’t have any energy, we were low on energy. But the second half, we came out and had a different mindset. We have a goal this year and that’s to get to the Final Four and the second half we came out with a lot of intensity.”
Tennessee outscored Kansas 54-38 in the second half.
Simmons led Tennessee with 22 points. Shekinna Stricklen had 16 points plus nine rebounds. Glory Johnson contributed 18 points and seven rebounds. Vicki Baugh added seven points and 11 rebounds.
Angel Goodrich paced Kansas with 23 points while Aishah Sutherland tallied 19. Chelsea Gardner scored 14 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Kansas finished the season 21-13 while the Lady Vols improved to 27-8.
On Monday, the Lady Vols will face the winner of the Georgia Tech – Baylor this afternoon. Tennessee is 2-3 all-time against Baylor and has a 1-1 record against the Lady Bears in NCAA Tournament play. Tennessee beat Baylor in the 2004 NCAA Sweet 16 game in Norman, Oklahoma, 71-69. The Lady Vols advanced to the NCAA title game but lost to Connecticut, 70-61, in New Orleans.
Tennessee Head Coach Pat Summitt
(On the game being a tale of two halves)
“We didn’t start out well at all, but the second half was definitely a different half for us. I thought we had a lot of people step up on the defensive end and on the offensive end.”
(On Tennessee coming out flat offensively)
“I don’t have an answer for it, but we can’t continue to do that. I think they understand, but we got off to a slow start.”
(On considering putting Meighan Simmons or Ariel Massengale into the starting lineup to avoid slow starts)
“I think that’s something that our staff will talk about. I think that might be what we really need to do.”
(On Ariel Massengale’s shooting performance)
“She really did a good job. Sometimes she likes to distribute the ball, but we need her to score as well.”
Associate Head Coach Holly Warlick
(On the second-half rally)
“We got down and defended the one-on-one. We got really serious about it. We had a pretty heated discussion at halftime. Our program is built on defense and rebounds and we were not doing that (in the first half). They were shooting 60 percent in the first half. We had to get down and defend one-on-one and I thought we came out and did that.”
(On what she learned about the Lady Vols in the Kansas game)
“I think we have a resiliency about us. We start off slow but we tend to never give up and that’s what I love about this team. I would much rather them not get in the hole, but they keep fighting and fighting. Different people step up. Meighan Simmons stepped up today, Ariel Massengale stepped up today. I’m just proud of their effort and it was a great team effort.”
Sophomore Meighan Simmons
(On how important reaching the Final Four is for the Senior Class)
“It’s very important (to get to the Final Four). These girls are like sisters to me and I want them to be successful just as anybody else. I think it’s going to be important for them to leave this arena of college basketball and step into the next step of their lives. This is really important, it is going to give them a boost of energy from the next level.”