published Friday, January 24th, 2014

Simmons leads Lady Vols past Florida, 89-69

Florida guard January Miller (3) drives against Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick (11) in their NCAA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, in Knoxville
Florida guard January Miller (3) drives against Tennessee forward Cierra Burdick (11) in their NCAA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, in Knoxville
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — Meighan Simmons scored 21 points Thursday as the Tennessee women's basketball team capitalized on its 3-point accuracy to beat Florida 89-69 on a night dedicated to honoring former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt.

Bashaara Graves added 17 points and eight rebounds for No. 11 Tennessee (15-4, 4-2 SEC), which shot 10-of-21 from 3-point range in handing Florida (13-6, 3-3) its third consecutive loss.

Andraya Carter scored 14 points, Jasmine Jones had 13 and Isabelle Harrison added 12 for Tennessee. Kayla Lewis led Florida with 14.

Tennessee guard Ariel Massengale didn't return to the game after getting hit in the face and falling to the floor while making a steal late in the first half.

Before the game, the Pat Summitt Foundation received three checks totaling $30,000 in honor of the SEC's "We Back Pat" Week, an initiative focused on recognizing the foundation's fight against Alzheimer's disease.

Summitt watched the game from her usual front-row seat across the court from the Lady Vols' bench and received flower bouquets from Tennessee coach Holly Warlick and Florida coach Amanda Butler before the game. Both coaching staffs wore "We Back Pat" T-shirts under their blazers. During a second-half timeout, Summitt received a standing ovation from a crowd that chanted "We Back Pat!"

Summitt led Tennessee to eight national titles and 1,098 victories before stepping down as the Lady Vols' coach in April 2012, months after announcing she had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. Although she remains head coach emeritus, Summitt now devotes much of her time to her foundation.

The Lady Vols entered Thursday leading the SEC in rebound margin, while Florida ranked last in the league in that category. But it was the Lady Vols' advantage from the perimeter that made the difference in this game.

While Tennessee made nearly half its 3-point attempts, Florida was 5-of-20 from beyond the arc. The Gators missed all eight of their 3-point shots in the first half.

Tennessee never trailed and raced to an 18-6 advantage in the first six minutes of the game by getting plenty of production from Graves.

Graves, the 2012-13 SEC newcomer of the year, had scored in double figures just once in the six games leading up to this one. The 6-foot-2 forward had been dealing with injuries to her leg and her back, though she says she feels fine now. A bigger concern may have been her wounded psyche, as Graves acknowledged she was struggling with her confidence.

She should be feeling much better about herself after Thursday's performance. She scored nine points in the first six minutes of the game by making each of her first four shots, and her fast start helped Tennessee grab a 40-27 halftime advantage.

Tennessee extended its lead to 19 early in the second half before Florida crept back into the game by finally hitting some outside shots. The Gators cut Tennessee's lead to 56-48 on a pair of Ronni Williams free throws with 11:20 remaining, but that's as close as they would get.

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