OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - Grit and energy sometimes aren’t enough. Ole Miss gave No. 8 Tennessee fits for almost 30 minutes before Tennessee’s talent finally took over Thursday night.
With 12 minutes left in the game and their lead cut to six, the Lady Vols’ Meighan Simmons hit three 3-pointers, ending the Ole Miss rally and sealing a 77-65 victory for the Volunteers.
“The effort was there,” said Ole Miss forward Tia Faleru, who finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
Tennessee (19-4, 8-2 Southeastern Conference) was 26 of 61 from the floor (42.6 percent) and finished 18 of 21 from the free throw line.
Ole Miss (10-14, 1-9) challenged a few times in the first half, and even led for brief stretches, but Tennessee ended the half on an 18-9 run and led 37-28 at the break.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were tight. The Rebels kept the gap to single digits, but couldn’t keep Tennessee off the boards.
Then the Volunteers found Simmons.
“We should have closed out more,” Faleru said. “We knew where she was at but we were a little late getting there.”
Simmons, battling illness, was 3 for 13 from the field midway through the second half. But on three consecutive possessions she buried 3-pointers, powering an 11-0 run that broke open the game.
“I knew that some way, somehow, I just had to keep shooting,” Simmons said. “My teammates and my coaches were pushing me to keep shooting.”
Ole Miss never mounted another serious challenge.
“You never want to lose Simmons,” Ole Miss coach Matt Insell said. “She’s a player very similar (Ole Miss men’s basketball star) Marshall Henderson. She can miss five shots in a row and then turn around and hit five in a row.”
Ole Miss moved the ball well and played at a higher level of intensity for most of the game. Much like their last two wins against Arkansas and Alabama, the Volunteers appeared at times to be disorganized and lackadaisical on defense.
“We relax. We just think the game is over and let’s all do our thing,” Warlick said. “I don’t have an answer. The kids were here before me. There’s two ends of the floor. You can’t rely all on your offense.”
But Tennessee’s size was too much to overcome for the smaller, faster Rebels. The Volunteers outrebounded Ole Miss 43-34 and scored 21 second-chance points.