Tennessee entered its home contest against No. 13 South Carolina on Sunday still in need of that resume-building win after suffering a defeat at Texas A&M on Thursday.
The Gamecocks (20-7, 12-2 SEC) however, proved to be too much in nearly every area of the game, as the Lady Vols (17-10, 6-8 SEC) fell, 82-67 in front of an announced crowd of 9,448 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“We dug ourselves in a hole in the first quarter,” Tennessee head coach Holly Warlick said. “They were more physical than us and we just didn’t handle it. We just have to start the game off better.”
South Carolina jumped out to a big lead, and while Tennessee knocked on the door in the third quarter, pulling within seven, it was turnovers, foul trouble and a lack of defending that led to the Lady Vols faltering in the end.
Here are the takeaways:
It was difficult for Tennessee to sustain any momentum because of turnovers, especially in the paint.
The Lady Vols committed 16 total turnovers in the game, with 12 of them coming in the first half. As a result, South Carolina took full advantage of them more often than not on the other end, scoring 17 points off of Tennessee mistakes.
“We definitely dug ourselves in the hole,” Tennessee guard Evina Westbrook said. “They just came out and really just took it to us. The first quarter was the difference in the game, I think.”
To put into perspective how big losing the turnover battle was, the Gamecocks only tallied six of them, leading to just three Tennessee points.
South Carolina wasted no time jumping out to a big lead in the first quarter, and guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore was a big reason why.
Coming into the game, Cuevas-Moore averaged just eight points per game and had only scored more than 20 in one other game this season. Versus Tennessee, she posted 16 points in the first half alone, and hurt Tennessee both in the paint and from beyond the arc.
“We let Bianca (Cuaves-Moore) make too many threes,” Warlick said. “She had a great game. She hit shots when they needed it. She hit free throws when they needed it. We just have to get out of the gate quicker.”
For the game, Cuevas-Moore finished with 28 points, going 9-of-18 from the field and 4 for 7 from the perimeter.
On the afternoon, Tennessee committed 16 back-breaking fouls, sending the Gamecocks to the charity stripe, where they converted 75 percent of their shots.
Many of the mishaps came in the second half, when the Lady Vols were trying to scrape together a comeback.
“We just sent them to the free throw line, way too much,” Tennessee sophomore guard Rennia Davis said. “We would get a stop here, and then we’d get a score and then we’d send them to the free throw line.
“We did that a lot, especially in the third quarter, and they made most of their points there in the third quarter. We’ve got to play defense and not foul them.”
While the next two opponents for Tennessee- Vanderbilt and Ole Miss- are a combined 4-24 in conference play this season, the two matchups are absolute must-wins for the Lady Vols.
A loss to either will deal a crushing blow to Tennessee’s postseason aspirations, especially with so few marquee wins this season.
“We’ve talked about getting the stretch that you need to,” Warlick said. “We need to win the games. They know. They understand it. We got ourselves in this hole and we’ve got to dig ourselves out of it. We’ve got to win these next two games, absolutely.”
The Lady Vols will host Vanderbilt (6-21, 1-13) on Thursday, with tip-off slated for 7 p.m. and can be seen on the SEC Network.