KNOXVILLE – Senior Kamiko Williams came up huge on both ends of the court to lead No. 16/14 Tennessee to an 88-81 overtime win over in-state foe Middle Tennessee. It was the Lady Vols’ fifth win in a row after a season-opening loss at Chattanooga.
Even through she didn’t post the biggest numbers on the stat sheet, Williams’ clutch shooting and defense spurred the Lady Vols in the second half and overtime. She finished with nine points, five rebounds and three assists to go along with numerous intangible plays.
“I just think Kamiko, we have found a balance with her,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “I said this after the last game that (assistant coaches) Jolette (Law) and Kyra (Elzy) have done a great job with her as far as mentoring her and getting her on track and focused through practice. I think she has done just that. I think you are seeing a result of how hard she is working in practice.
“Having her take practice seriously, getting in better shape, she is now in better condition. Last year towards the end of the stretch I do not think she would have hung in there and played defense-she would have gotten tired. But now she is getting in better shape and understanding that we do need her as a vital and important part of this basketball team.”
Junior Meighan Simmons led Tennessee (5-1) with 19 points. Freshman Bashaara Graves, who has scored in double-figures in all six of her college games, had 15 points. She also corralled 12 rebounds for her second double-double.
Sophomore Ariel Massengale, who started for the second time this season, tallied a season-best 15 points. Sophomore Isabelle Harrison scored 10 points and swatted a career-high six blocks.
MTSU (4-2) had four players score in double-figures led by Icelyn Elie, who had 21. She was joined by Ebony Rowe (19), Laken Leonard (17) and Shanice Cason (13).
Tennessee used a 10-0 overtime run keyed by Williams’ all-around play to secure the win.
Sophomore Cierra Burdick put UT ahead for good, 79-77, with a pair of free throws with 2:04 left in OT. Then Williams’ stole the ensuing possession from MTSU and set up Simmons for a layup with 1:52 left to move the lead to 81-77. Williams finished the next sequence with a layup to make it 83-77 with 40 seconds left. Then Williams drew a charge seconds later. Harrison’s bank shot was the final dagger finishing the run of 10 points in a row.
After being down for the game’s first 35-plus minutes, Tennessee finally grabbed a lead for the first time late in the second half. Williams’ steal and bank shot put the Lady Vols ahead at 64-63-their first lead of the game with 4:24 left in regulation. Massengale hit a jumper to put UT ahead by three and the Lady Vols never trailed after that.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” Warlick said. “We would make a great stop and we would come down by one and then we would turn the ball over, then they would get a jump ball, but I think we were trying to get it back so quickly and we wanted to settle down and use the clock and make them have to play defense.
“I think once we finally got over that hump, we got a little more energy. I could feel the tension when we could not go ahead. We battled and I was proud of them for finishing.”