South Carolina lost the same way it won 30 consecutive games over SEC competition – control the paint, be more physical … and perhaps get a kind whistle.
Tennessee beat the No. 4 Gamecocks 76-74 on Monday, snapping three USC winning streaks by following all of the above.
The Lady Vols owned the interior in a 17-5 run to take control in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of heavy foul trouble to A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates, then had Jaime Nared convert two free throws with 5.6 seconds left for the clinchers.
Bianca Cuevas-Moore drained a 3-pointer to tie the game on the previous possession, and as USC hurried back on defense, there was no doubt who they would guard.
Nared is Tennessee’s best free-throw shooter. Tyasha Harris was on her as she got the ball, and Nared appeared to slip, falling with the ball.
The Gamecocks hollered travel. The Volunteers looked stunned another game might slip away.
The official – the same who called a technical foul on Wilson in the third, immediately after a soft touch foul on the perimeter – signaled a block on Harris. Nared sunk her free throws, Cuevas-Moore missed a desperation 3-pointer, and it was over.
“I tripped on her foot, so … there’s not much I could have done,” Nared said, biting through a smile. “I tripped, I’m a little clumsy.”
“I saw what everybody else saw,” USC coach Dawn Staley said.
The Gamecocks (18-2, 8-1 SEC) had also won 30 consecutive SEC home games and 24 in a row in the SEC regular season. USC remained in first place by a half-game after Monday, but nobody was thinking about that.
“It’s just the way it goes,” Wilson said. “It’s just the way the chips fall.”
Tennessee (14-7, 5-3) outscored USC 38-26 in the paint, going right at the Gamecocks and daring them to stop it. Coates had two quick fouls in the first and Wilson’s second midway through the second quarter sent her to the bench.
USC hung on until halftime, only trailing three, then spurted to a lead when Wilson was nailed with her third and fourth fouls (the technical) at 6:13 of the third. The Gamecocks led 53-52 going to the fourth, but with Wilson still on the bench, the Volunteers saw their opening.
They attacked and attacked as USC backed off, afraid to trigger a whistle for free points, and the Gamecocks couldn’t equal it. They missed four shots within five feet of the basket as the Lady Vols took a 69-60 lead, and the outcome looked decided.
But USC stormed back, chipping away at the lead until Cuevas-Moore swished her 3 to finish her game-high 18 points. That set up the final play, where there was contact, but foot-to-foot contact as Nared started to run past Harris.
The whistle sounded. Colonial Life Arena was incredulous.
Staley didn’t take the bait, stating she promised her staff she wouldn’t go there. She spoke on Wilson’s technical – “She’s not a kid that directs anger toward anybody. I think everybody across America should know that” – but put all the approach on the next game.
“We’ve got to go to Kentucky and play,” Staley said. “And we will. We’re resilient.”
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