GREENVILLE, S.C. – The Lady Vols have earned an appearance in the SEC Championship for the first time since 2015. Their opponent? The No. 1 team in the nation.
Tennessee heads into its 24th SEC Championship appearance to face off with South Carolina on Sunday.
The Gamecocks beat their first two SEC Tournament opponents by an average of 28 points. South Carolina has yet to be defeated this season, but Tennessee got close at the end of February.
After coming out of the gate hot with a 19-10 lead, the Lady Vols’ offense stalled and the Gamecocks were able to pull out a victory in Knoxville. Several things went wrong that game, like almost a quarter’s worth of scoring droughts, but some things went right.
One thing that went right was holding SEC Player of the Year Aliyah Boston to just 11 points and five boards.
Tennessee’s starting five Karoline Striplin was “excited” to go against Boston in the first matchup. She is just as excited to face her in the SEC Championship on Sunday.
“I just love all things basketball,” Striplin said. “I love watching great players play. It’s kind of what you dream of, just going against the best. I’m excited.”
The workload doesn’t fall completely on Striplin though. Forward Jillian Hollingshead has been crucial down the stretch for Tennessee.
The 6-foot-5 post has grown from being described as “timid” by her teammates to one of the most physical offensive post players on the team.
“We have a pretty big job to do,” Hollingshead said. “We just have to come out against them the way we came out in the second half (against LSU) and we’ll be straight.”
For Hollingshead, the second half against LSU meant nine points on 3-for-6 shooting. Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper praised Hollingshead for stepping up when Tennessee was in need of another scorer.
The Lady Vols had no scorers to go to in the first half, being down by as much as 17 at one point. It took the second-largest comeback in SEC Tournament history to push Tennessee over the edge.
Another fight in Bon Secours Arena awaits Tennessee on Sunday.
“Just coming out hot,” guard Jordan Horston said about the key to victory. “We know that we can't get down. We know how South Carolina plays. We just played them pretty recent, so that's an advantage for us.”
Tennessee will have to adjust from the first meeting. That adjustment is more so preventing self inflicted mistakes than anything the Gamecocks can throw at the Lady Vols.
Problem No. 1 for Tennessee is turnovers. Tennessee had 13 turnovers in the first half in the semifinals, allowing LSU to jump out to a big lead. When the Lady Vols stopped turning it over – finishing the second half with only four – they completed a comeback that made the game an instant classic.
Tennessee had nine turnovers the first time it faced South Carolina. By limiting turnovers and avoiding scoring droughts, the Lady Vols will position themselves to bring home their first SEC Championship since 2014.
“There’s a reason no one’s been able to knock them off yet,” Harper said. “We are going to come in here and give it everything we’ve got. We’ll have a game plan and we’ll be ready to go.”
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.