Simmons leads No. 10 Lady Vols over LSU, 72-67

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Meighan Simmons has been comfortable taking tough shots in tense moments for a while now.

So Tennessee’s leading scorer wasn’t going to be rattled by the sight of her 10th-ranked Lady Vols blowing a 21-point halftime lead, or the sound of LSU’s home crowd going wild over the prospect of a historic comeback over an old nemesis.

Simmons highlighted a 31-point performance with a clutch 3-pointer in the final minute, and Tennessee held off the relentless Lady Tigers, 72-67, on Thursday night.

“That’s her,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said of Simmons. “She’s a gutsy kid … and she makes big plays for us.”

Simmons hit five 3s in all and also made a couple of free throws to help seal the victory for the Lady Vols (23-5, 12-2 Southeastern Conference), who won for the ninth time in 10 games.

“The coaches just told us to attack and I really wasn’t thinking anything. I was just thinking about scoring,” Simmons said. “They were big shots, but I thank the coaches for just being confident in me.”

Cierra Burdick added a career-high 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Isabelle Harrison had 11 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee, which had to rescue the victory after allowing LSU to tie the score with 3:28 to go.

“I definitely think it was a big deal that we just kept grinding,” Tennessee guard Andraya Carter said. “A lot of times a team would fold when you have such a good lead to end the first half and it starts to slip away.

“We stayed together. All our huddles were positive. Everything we were saying to each other was positive,” Carter continued. “It’s a big deal because we will have close games” in the postseason.

Jeanne Kenney scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half, including two 3s and the tying free throws during LSU’s late 10-0 run. Theresa Plaisance added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Lady Tigers, who’ve now lost five straight for the first time in 19 years, but spoke in prideful tones.

“We came together and that’s something I haven’t seen in a very long time, and I was very proud of how we did come back,” Kenney said. “I couldn’t ask for better teammates for this game.”

Trailing 42-21 at halftime, LSU managed to make the game far more competitive over the final 20 minutes, and Tennessee helped by turning the ball over 11 times in the half.

Plaisance, who’d started 2 of 10 form the field, hit a pair of 3s early in the second half, the first capping a 7-0 run to start the period.

Kenney’s second 3 of the half pulled LSU to 59-52 with 5:53 left. She pumped both arms at her side as the crowd rose to its feet. Two possessions later, Kenney buried another 3 from the right corner, and DaShawn Harden’s steal of Carter’s pass, which Harden turned into a fast-break layup, gave the Lady Tigers eight straight points to make it a one-possession game at 59-57 with 4:35 still left.

Kenney completed the comeback, tying the score on two free throws about a minute later.

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