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Lady Vols' Simmons emerges as more complete player

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm •  Published: March 27, 2013

Although offense comes naturally to Simmons, her defense is a work in progress.

"Meighan is learning the complete game, the total game," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "We all know she's a scorer. I think she's had to understand she's got to do different things for us to be successful. She's becoming a better defender, a better rebounder, and that's what we need from her."

Ever since she took over the program last April, Warlick has emphasized the importance of defense to Simmons. Warlick and her assistants have reminded Simmons that scoring in bunches won't help the team if she's giving up an equal number of points on the other end of the floor.

"It's just holding her accountable, being consistent with her," assistant coach Kyra Elzy said. "Just because you're scoring doesn't mean you're going to get to stay on the floor if you're not getting it done on the defensive end. ... I think she's stepped up to the challenge."

Tennessee's opening game in the NCAA tournament showed how far Simmons has come in that regard.

Simmons went on one of her customary scoring spurts Saturday by reeling off 10 straight Tennessee points during a 15-3 run that put the Lady Vols ahead for good in an 83-62 victory over Oral Roberts. This time, her defense created her offense. Simmons made a pair of steals during the run that led to layups.

"That's a step in the right direction," Elzy said. "Now we just need it consistently. That's what we're looking for from her every game."

They'll definitely need it from her Sunday.

Tennessee's chances of going on its first Final Four run since 2008 could depend on how well Simmons and her teammates defend. Tennessee averages 77.7 points per game to rank fourth nationally, while Oklahoma (73.0) ranks 15th.

Oklahoma has averaged 81.5 points in each of its first two NCAA tournament games. Aaryn Ellenberg has averaged 24.5 points and has shot a combined 10 of 20 from 3-point range in the first two rounds of the tournament.

"She's a great player," Simmons said. "She's the head of the snake. I think if we take her down, we should be fine."