Angie Bjorklund scored 20 points in the first half and Meighan Simmons added 18 and the eighth-ranked Lady Vols pulled away in the second half to coast to a 92-77 victory over No. No. 21 Texas on Sunday.
Bjorklund provided the early punch with four 3-pointers in the first half, then Simmons took over in the second as the Lady Vols (9-1) sent Texas (5-3) to its third consecutive loss.
As soon as it was over, the Lady Vols turned their attention to their big Tuesday night showdown with No. 2 Baylor just 100 miles north in Waco. Baylor knocked Tennessee out of the NCAA tournament last season.
“We’ve been looking forward to (Baylor) for a while,” Bjorklund said. “When that game ended, my mind went to Baylor. I’m not going to lie.”
Kathleen Nash scored 21 points to lead Texas, which committed its season average of 20 turnovers that led to 23 Tennessee points. The loss also snapped Texas’ 27-game non-conference winning streak at home.
Texas was hamstrung by suspensions and illness and coach Gail Goestenkors used only seven players. The Longhorns didn’t have the stamina to keep up with the deep and talented Lady Vols, who had five players score in double figures.
“The guard play we have allows us to be out and bring the heat early. Watching them on tape, Texas does a great job of pushing tempo. We knew we had to match that intensity,” Tennessee coach Pat Summitt said. “Our depth definitely helped us in this game, being able to rotate and keep people fresh.”
Tennessee shot 51 percent in the first half. Bjorklund made a variety of shots, hitting 4 of 8 3-pointers or driving at will. Her reverse dribble around the perimeter and burst along the baseline for a reverse layup put the Lady Vols up 38-29.
Tennessee led by as many as nine points in the half and kept finding the shots it needed to end Texas rallies. The Longhorns got within 40-37 on Yvonne Anderson’s 3-pointer before Bjorklund made her fourth 3-pointer of the half in a 6-0 run.
Nash kept making the shots that kept the Lady Vols from pulling too far away. Nash was 6 of 8 from the field in the first half with four 3-pointers. A defensive lapse by the Lady Vols let Nash slip into the right wing for a wide-open 3-pointer with 5 seconds left to pull the Longhorns within 48-42.
“We made them pay for being in their zone. In the second half, we made too many turnovers and that led to transition for them,” Nash said.
Texas clamped down on Bjorklund in the second half, holding her to just one shot over the first 12 minutes. But the Lady Vols finally pushed to their first double-digit lead on consecutive fast breaks after Texas missed shots.
Bjorklund fired a long pass to Simmons for an easy layup and 20 seconds later, Simmons was out front on another break. She missed the contested layup but Kelley Cain was there for an easy putback and a 65-54 lead with 13:43 to play.
The lightning-quick Simmons was on the run in just about every Tennessee break. Her layup started an 11-1 Tennessee run that put the game away. Taber Spani made a 3-pointer from the left corner and Shekinna Stricklen had a fastbreak layup and a three-point play to put the Lady Vols up 82-64 with 6:38 left.
Simmons is from the San Antonio suburbs about 60 miles away. She played in three high school state tournaments on Texas’ court but never won a title.
“I was nervous” about the chance to play so close to home in front of a lot of family, Simmons said.
She didn’t look it when she had a steal and layup for the Lady Vols first basket of the game and hit a 3-pointer moments later.
Simmons said she always dreamed of playing at Tennessee for Summitt and never considered signing with Texas.
“When I first saw her in high school, I was like ’Wow.’ If we could get a player like her, she could be a difference maker,” Summitt said.