The No. 14/16 Tennessee women’s basketball team lost to the No. 7/7 Gamecocks 67-52 after giving up 29 to open the game in Greenville, South Carolina. After the semifinals loss, the Lady Vols will await their seeding for the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship, while the Gamecocks prepare for Georgia in the SEC Championship match.
“Well during the last timeout, I told our team how we were gonna finish,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said. “We knew we weren’t gonna pull this one out with two and a half minutes left, but we talked about what’s next, who we are, and what we can do. I think the beauty is that we put ourselves in a really good position."
"We have improved throughout the year," Harper continued. "We have played some really good basketball and we have an opportunity to play for a long time. It doesn’t help the hurt that we feel right now, but I want it to help tomorrow. I want them to wake up tomorrow, looking forward to what’s next.”
The Lady Vols struggled to score, as they finished with their lowest point total of the season. The offense was led by Jordan Walker and Jordan Horston, with both players dropping 11 on the night. The former added five rebounds to the effort, while the latter tallied three boards, three blocks and two steals off of the bench.
South Carolina finished with a trio of players in the double figures. Zia Cooke finished with a game-high 17 points, along with four boards. Aliyah Boston had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds while chipping in three assists, two blocks and a steal. Destanni Henderson rounded out the group with 13 points, 3-9 from three, seven rebounds and five assists.
The first quarter opened up with each team matching each other for eight points going into the media timeout. After the break, Davis nailed a three to put Tennessee ahead 11-10, but South Carolina would answer quickly with a 10-run to take a nine-point lead.
Davis was able to get the Lady Vols back on the board, but it was short-lived as the Gamecocks went on another run, this time good for nine points, as they finished the opening stanza up, 29-13.
“We weren’t getting stops, obviously,” Harper said. “I think anytime they missed a shot, they were cleaning it up on the boards. We couldn’t get clean looks and when we did get clean looks, we weren’t able to score on them, and on the other hand, we were not offensive boarding. It came down to execution. South Carolina did a really good job getting down and guarding and being very physical. We’ve got to be able to hand that a little bit better, and hopefully next time we will.”
Each team’s offense slowed down considerably in the second frame. Henderson opened up the scoring with a three to add to South Carolina’s lead. Tennessee created a 7-0 run of its own, which was kicked off with a layup by Horston, cutting their deficit to a dozen.
Henderson put an end to the Lady Vols run with another three, but Tennessee answered with two consecutive baskets. Cooke and Tamari Key closed out the quarter by making free throws for their respective teams. South Carolina held a 39-25 point advantage at the half.
The second half started with a 5-0 South Carolina run to lead Tennessee by 19 points. The Lady Vols didn’t score until a little more than 2:30 into the quarter, after Key hit a layup in the post, creating a 7-2 run for Tennessee. The Gamecocks didn’t give way and immediately shut down Tennessee run and started their own 13-6 run to go up by 20 with just 10 minutes left in the game.
“I think they have improved a lot of things since the last time we played them,” said Walker. “Specifically, their defense, their defense was a lot better. We didn’t get as many easy looks and transition looks, like the first time we played them.”
The final stanza kicked off with a made shot inside the paint from Davis. Henderson responded on the next play with her third three of the night. The Lady Vols scored the next six points of the night, which was fueled by a fast break bucket from Horston.
During the final minute and a half in the game, the two programs traded blows, with South Carolina capturing a 67-52 win to bring them to the SEC Championship game.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will occur on Monday, March 15 at 7 p.m. on ESPN. Tennessee is currently projected to be a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship.