There has been a lot of heartache for South Carolina in its 37 straight losses to Tennessee entering Sunday’s game.
The past 18 had been double-digit losses — even one by 54 points — but it will be hard to find any as painful as Sunday’s 60-55 loss to the No. 5 Volunteers at Colonial Life Arena.
The streak in now at 38, and don’t believe that Tennessee coach Pat Summitt didn’t make her team well aware that they hadn’t lost to USC since 1980.
“Coach gave us this speech that we’ve never lost to South Carolina, or it’s been a while, and we don’t want to be the team to lose to them,” Tennessee freshman guard Kamiko Williams said.
For the majority of the game, it looked like the 7,123 fans in attendance would witness history for the second time in less than a week.
South Carolina (19-2, 7-1) led most of the game, and Tennessee didn’t take its first lead until 7:53 remained. Even that was short-lived as the Gamecocks scored four straight points to regain the advantage. They maintained that lead until Kelley Cain tied the game at 54 with 2:47 to go.
The Lady Vols (19-2, 7-1) took the lead for good at 56-54 with 1:57 remaining on another Cain layup.
USC scored one point in the closing four minutes — a Jewel May free throw. During that span, the Gamecocks were 0-for-6 from the field and 1-for-4 from the free throw line with two turnovers, including a key one late when USC had a chance to tie the game.
Angie Bjorklund nailed a jumper with the shot clock running down with 27 seconds left to make it a 3-point game. After a timeout, Alicia Manning tipped USC’s inbounds pass and Williams gathered the loose ball. Williams’ two free throws with 19 seconds remaining sealed the victory
“We’ve got young players who have never been in that situation, and sometimes being that close to getting a win from a team like that, you start thinking instead of just reacting and playing,” USC coach Dawn Staley said. “But you have to execute at the end.”
Summitt, who was giving her team icy stares most of the game, summed it up.
“We struggled at times, but one thing we did down the stretch is we found a way to win,” Summitt said.
The Gamecocks jumped to a 13-0 lead behind two 3-pointers from La’Keisha Sutton and another from Valerie Nainima. South Carolina still led 21-13 on two free throws from Sutton, but the Gamecocks struggled to close out the first half.
In the final 10 minutes, USC went 1-for-11 from the field with seven turnovers and five points. But it was enough to hold a 26-25 lead at halftime.
Sutton led USC with 19 points while Nainima added 16. Kelsey Bone scored 11 with six rebounds, but the Tennessee bench proved to be the difference.
Behind the career-high 17 points from Williams, the Lady Vols’ bench outscored the Gamecocks’ reserves 32-6. Alyssia Brewer had 13 points off the bench for the Lady Vols, and USC didn’t have an answer despite holding Tennessee’s top three scorers to a combined 18 points — 22 points below their average.
“I think our players really focused in on the game plan and really executed the game plan as well as they could,” Staley said. “I think it was 37 strong minutes, but to beat a team like Tennessee you have to play a whole 40.”