DES MOINES, Iowa — Tennessee was down 14 points against 11th-seeded Kansas, an unheralded bunch that few thought could test the mighty Lady Vols.
Feisty sophomore Meighan Simmons gave Tennessee the boost it needed to survive and advance to yet another regional final.
Simmons scored 16 of her 22 points off the bench in the second half and Tennessee rallied past the Jayhawks 84-73 Saturday and advanced to its second consecutive regional final and 25th in 31 years.
Glory Johnson added 18 points for the second-seeded Lady Vols (27-8), who’ll meet top-ranked Baylor on Monday for a spot in the Final Four.
It was the 1,098th win for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, who announced in August she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type, and has yet to commit to coaching next season.
“The first half we tend to get ourselves in a hole, but we fought back,” said Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick. “I thought our bench was outstanding.”
The Lady Vols trailed 26-12 in the first half, but cut the deficit to 35-30 by halftime. They took the lead for good with a 19-9 run to open the second half.
Angel Goodrich had a game-high 23 points and Aishah Sutherland had 19 for Kansas (21-13), which fell to 0-3 in regional semifinals.
Simmons helped pick up the sluggish Lady Vols.
“She has a scoring mentality. We’ve said she’s never seen a shot she didn’t like. But I tell you what, a lot of those shots she takes she makes,” Warlick said. “If we can learn from her and understand that great things can happen when you have a lot of heart, we won’t get down like that in the first half.”
Tennessee couldn’t do anything right for the first 11 minutes, falling behind a Kansas team that finished below .500 in the Big 12.
But there’s a reason the Lady Vols always seem to be in the regional finals. The Jayhawks found out in the opening minutes of the second half, when Tennessee’s superior depth and athleticism simply overwhelmed the underdogs.
Freshman post player Chelsea Gardner did her best to keep the Jayhawks close with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Shekinna Stricklen had 16 points and nine rebounds for Tennessee, which shot 51. 5 percent in the second half.
DUKE 74, ST. JOHN’S 47
In Fresno, Calif., Shay Selby took charge in the second half to finish with 18 points and seven assists, leading Duke to a win over St. John’s in the regional semifinals.
Chelsea Gray, who grew up about 75 miles north in Stockton, scored 13 points and Tricia Liston had 15 for the second-seeded Blue Devils (25-5) in what became a surprising rout. Duke moved within one win of its first Final Four since 2006 and will play top-seeded Stanford or No. 5 seed South Carolina on Monday night.
Selby had five points and two assists in the opening 4:55 of the second half and knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the arc that built Duke’s lead to 49-29. She also had four steals.
Da’Shena Stevens scored 19 points in her final game for No. 3 seed St. John’s (24-10), which didn’t have another player with more than six points.