The No. 21 Tennessee women’s basketball team upset No. 2 South Carolina 75-67 Thursday night, behind 24 points from senior Rennia Davis. The Lady Vols (13-5, 7-3 SEC) snapped a streak of 31 consecutive SEC wins for the Gamecocks (17-3, 12-1 SEC).
Here are three takeaways.
Davis leads the way
Rennia Davis. That’s all I need to write.
She was incredible for the Lady Vols, totaling 24 points, 12 rebounds, an assist and a steal. That marked her seventh double-double of the season and the 36th of her career, passing Gloria Johnson for 4th all time in school history.
Davis was the biggest difference maker for the Lady Vols in the second half. She didn’t score a point in the first two quarters, but took head coach Kellie Harper’s halftime message to heart.
“She said we were playing soft,” Davis said. “And I take it personal, obviously. My first half, I just wasn’t doing enough for the team, obviously. And that’s just not because I didn’t score, it was just everything.”
The result was a tremendous second half effort. The Jacksonville, Florida native shot 50% from both the field and deep, and was a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line. Her 38 minutes played led Tennessee, and she committed just one turnover.
With Davis on fire, as she has been lately, Tennessee is tough team to beat.
A tale of two halves
Much like Davis’ performance, the Lady Vols’ night was a tale of two halves. Tennessee struggled to gain any offensive momentum early on.
Tennessee played South Carolina to a 16-16 tie after the first quarter, shooting 36.8% from the field. The second quarter was even worse, as they Lady Vols scored just nine points on 23.1% shooting. Rae Burrell was the lone bright spot in the first half, with 12 points.
Led by Davis, Tennessee outscored the Gamecocks 50-30 in the second half, and shot over 50% in both quarters. The Lady Vols’ three three-pointers all came in the second half as well.
Tennessee cut down on its turnovers, eight in the first half and five in the second, while also picking up its rebounding. South Carolina outrebounded UT 24-18 through two quarters, while the Lady Vols countered with 22-16 in the second half.
Davis was Tennessee’s biggest rebounder with six, but fellow senior Kasiyahna Kushkituah picked up five boards (seven total) as well.
“Our team got ourselves right back in it,” Harper said. “The thing that looked a little different tonight was that we got back in it and then really never faltered. We kept going. There weren't a lot of mental mistakes on our part in the second half. We played pretty focused, and I'm really proud of that."
Harper has her statement win
She almost had it in January, in a close loss to No. 3 UConn. Her team hung around with No. 6 Texas A&M until the very end, in a close loss last Sunday. But tonight, Harper guided her team past a 16-point deficit, the largest comeback in the Harper era, to the biggest win of Tennessee’s season.
The Lady Vols were stranded in Texas for two days following their loss to A&M. Weather conditions had grounded the fight home, and Harper and her team were stuck in a hotel. They had little time to prepare for the second-best team in the nation.
“This is probably the least preparation we’ve done for a team this year. And it’s probably the team we needed to prepare the most for,” Harper said after the game.
The Lady Vols had lost two straight entering the night, and no one could have blamed them if South Carolina came out and dominated the game. It would have been a familiar tale too. Last year, Tennessee lost five consecutive game in February to effectively end their season.
However, looking adversity in the face, Harper coached her team through a terrible first half to an upset win, which kept their postseason aspirations alive. It was the program’s first win over a top-5 team since Dec. 10, 2017 against No. 2 Texas.
“I challenged them, got a little fiery in the half time,” Harper said. “Got a lot of emotion. And they obviously responded. They obviously really responded. They took it to heart. I called them soft, told them they need to get their big girl pants on, and they did. They stepped out there and did it.”
Yesterday, Harper was named to the Naismith Late Season List, and with the way she had led this team, she deserves the honor.
Tennessee will travel to Athens this Sunday, seeking revenge against No. 22 Georgia. Tipoff is set for 12 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on SEC Network.