Tennessee athletic trainer Jenny Moshak told Kamiko Williams over the summer that if she wanted to return from ACL surgery before the 2011-12 season ended, she would have to keep a positive attitude and push through a tough rehabilitation process.
Fortunately, Williams has no problem keeping her spirits up.
“I’m happy-go-lucky anyways,” Williams said. “With J-Mo just kicking my butt every day and (conditioning coach) Heather Mason doing her thing, I just got it done. I had no choice. If I wanted to come back, I had to do it.”
The junior guard surprised everyone by making her first appearance for the season in No. 6 Tennessee’s 90-47 rout of Chattanooga on Tuesday night, just five months after the July 22 surgery on her left knee.
Williams finished with two points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals in 16 minutes. Primarily, the Lady Volunteers are thrilled for what her return means as they enter a tough month that includes games against No. 16 Georgia, No. 11 Kentucky, No. 24 Vanderbilt and No. 3 Notre Dame.
“You see what we missed,” associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “We were concerned. Kamiko had never been injured. An ACL injury is obviously a very serious injury, and we were concerned about how she would rehab, but she’s been unbelievable. She hasn’t missed a day with Jenny, and her knee is so much stronger.”
Tennessee (10-3) just needed for her to get comfortable being back on the floor against Chattanooga (8-4). Her teammates took care of the rest.
Ariel Massengale made all six of her shots from the floor, including four 3s, to finish with 19 points—a new career high. Glory Johnson added 10 points and 13 rebounds, Isabelle Harrison scored 13, Meighan Simmons added 10 points.
Every Lady Vol that played sank a bucket.
Whitney Hood hit the first basket of the game for Chattanooga, and the Lady Mocs kept it close for the first 3 1/2 minutes of the game.
Faith Dupree, who signed with Tennessee but transferred after sitting out her freshman season with back problems, hit a jumper to cut Tennessee’s lead to 10-8 with 16:34 to play. Dupree finished with a team-leading 17 points, and Hood had 10.
“Coming back to this atmosphere I knew that I should step up,” said Dupree, a Knoxville native. “I was anxious at the beginning, definitely.”
Chattanooga wouldn’t score again for 12 minutes, and Tennessee scored the next 30 points. The Lady Vols sank four 3s, scored 12 points off nine Chattanooga turnovers and hit 56.3 percent of their shots during the first half. They held a 50-16 lead at halftime.
Williams entered the game during the run and immediately went to work, grabbing the rebound on a missed 3-point attempt by Cierra Burdick and putting it back up for a layup to make it 38-8. She dished the ball on the next possession to Burdick, who hit a jumper.
The Lady Mocs finished the half having hit only 6 of 29 shots from the field and missing all eight of their 3-point attempts while being outrebounded 28-12 by Tennessee.
By the end of the game, the Lady Vols held a 55-28 rebounding margin, which they turned into 30 second-chance points. They had 19 points off 17 Chattanooga turnovers and blocked nine shots.
The Lady Vols have outscored the Lady Mocs by an average 28.5 points during coach Pat Summitt’s 38-year tenure, and Tennessee won last season’s meeting 103-43. The Lady Vols had a 19-0 run in that game to take control and finished with a school-record 15 3-pointers.
“I told our team at halftime that we have to get back to competing in games like this,” Chattanooga coach Wes Moore said. “There was a time, even when Tennessee was winning national championships, we could compete with them. We are going to try our best to get back to that point.”