The No. 14 Tennessee women’s basketball team was defeated by No. 7 South Carolina 67-52 in the semifinal round of the SEC Tournament Saturday night. It was an all around domination for the Gamecocks, who advanced to the championship game with the win.
Here are three takeaways from Tennessee’s loss.
Slow from the beginning
It was a slow start for the Lady Vols, again, and this time, they got burned. South Carolina opened the game with a 29-13 first quarter, dominating the Lady Vols in every fashion.
Senior Rennia Davis led Tennessee with seven points in the quarter, and three other Lady Vols added just two points. Tennessee shot just 33.3% from the field, and 16% from deep. The Lady Vols were outrebounded 13-8, and committed seven fouls and six turnovers, to South Carolina’s two and one, respectively.
“We weren’t getting stops, obviously,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said on the first quarter. “And 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 them. And we on the other end, we were not offensive boarding. So it really came down to execution.”
Those numbers did not get much better on the day. Overall, Tennessee shot 36.4% from the field and 14.3% from three-point range. The Lady Vols totaled 19 fouls and 18 turnovers, and were outrebounded 44-33 for the day.
Tennessee had no momentum, for the majority of the night, and it started in the first quarter.
Issues with scoring depth
In the past when the Lady Vols have started slow, the duo of Davis and Burrell have carried their team with an amazing second-half performance. Even when Tennessee beat South Carolina in February, Davis didn’t score in the first half, but dropped 24 points in the second to propel Tennessee to the win.
Tonight, that never happened. For just the second time all season, Davis and Burrell both scored in single figure points, both with nine. The first time it happened was Dec. 20 against UNCG, a game Harper devoted to resting her starters. In every other effort, at least one of the pair has reached double-digits.
With Davis and Burrell struggling, graduate transfer Jordan Walker and sophomore Jordan Walker both led the scoring tonight, though each with just 11 points. Outside of Davis and Burrell, Key was the next highest scorer, with eight points.
Tennessee’s offense has been so reliant on Davis and Burrell this season, as they have accounted for over half of its scoring. South Carolina was able to stop the duo on defense, and no one else on Tennessee stepped up and took control of the game.
“When the defense is collapsing on (Davis and Burrell), the rest of the team just has to step up and be ready knock down those shots,” Walker said. “When the ball comes our way, be ready to make plays. And know that they’re going to continue to do what they can, and we have to do what we can.”
The lack of scoring depth should be a concern for the Lady Vols, heading into the NCAA Tournament in a few weeks.
Difference from deep
For as poor as Tennessee played tonight, its stats were pretty similar to South Carolina’s. Both teams shot 36% from the field, and were comparable at the free-throw line, Tennessee went 10-15 while South Carolina went 14-16. Each side committed 19 fouls, and the turnover margin was not too extreme, UT lead 18-13.
Where South Carolinna was able to pull away was from three-point range. The Gamecocks hit 43.8% (7-16) shots from deep, while holding the Lady Vols to 2-14. South Carolina’s trio of top scorers, Zia Cooke, Aliyah Boston and Destanni Henderson, each scored in double figures, and made all of their team’s three’s.
Cook led with a game-high 17 points, and was 2-3 from deep. Boston totaled 15 points, and was a perfect 2-2 from three-point range. She also recorded a double-double with 11 rebounds. Henderson rounded out the group with 13 points, and a game-high three makes from deep.
Davis and Walker each made one trey for Tennessee, though both shot in 20% range. Davis was 1-5 and Walker was 1-4. Burrell, Tennessee’s most accurate shooter this season, was 0-2 and Horston and freshman Marta Suárez missed their attempts as well.
With the Lady Vols done in the SEC Tournament, they won’t play for some time. Tennessee should certainly have a spot in the NCAA Tournament, likely as No. 3 or No. 4 seed. The first round of the women’s tournament will be played on March 21 and 22. Tennessee has just over two weeks to focus on itself and recover, mentally and physically.