Gamecocks Battle No. 5/6 Tennessee to the End
Jan. 20, 2011
COLUMBIA, S.C. - South Carolina gave No. 5/6 Tennessee all it could handle in a 71-56 loss in SEC women's basketball action at Colonial Life Arena Thursday night. The Gamecocks (10-9, 2-4 SEC) led for much of the first half and were within five points with five minutes left in the game, but shooting woes allowed the Lady Vols (18-2, 6-0 SEC) to escape with the win. Sophomore Ieasia Walker dominated the second half for South Carolina, scoring 19 of her game-high 24 points in the final 20 minutes, adding six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot during that stretch as well.
Just like the meeting at Colonial Life Arena last season, the Gamecocks stormed out of the gate to a 12-4 advantage seven minutes into the game. Defense sparked the offense as La'Keisha Sutton turned a pair of steals into layups, and Walker turned a Tennessee turnover into a 3-pointer from the right corner. Courtney Newton added a bucket from the left block off an inbounds play, and Ashley Bruner capped the surge with a traditional three-point play.
Tennessee answered with its own run as the Lady Vols increased their pressure on the boards and the Gamecocks' shots refused to fall. After a pair of offensive rebounds turned into four quick points for Tennessee and Taber Spani hit a 3 from the left wing, Glory Johnson knotted the game at 12-12 with a free throw at the 10-minute mark. Spani's 3 from the right corner capped the 11-0 run and put the Lady Vols on top for the first time in the game at 15-12.
Valerie Nainima answered immediately for South Carolina with a 3 from the top of the arc, and Walker put the Gamecocks back up with a transition layup. From there the teams traded the lead three times, but the Lady Vols closed the half on a 7-0 run, highlighted by Angie Bjorklund's 3 from the left wing at the buzzer, to head into the locker room with a 33-26 advantage.
The Lady Vols dominated the glass in the second half, routinely limiting the Gamecocks to one shot en route to opening a 15-point lead less than midway through the period. Walker and Sutton put the South Carolina offense on their backs during the stretch, scoring all 10 of the team's points, but could not keep pace with the Lady Vols who took advantage of offensive rebounds and fouls to build a 51-36 lead.
Sutton cut the margin with a drive through the lane, and Walker added back-to-back buckets, the last one coming off her own steal, to pull the Gamecocks back within double digits at 51-42. Meighan Simmons hit a 3-pointer from the right wing, but Walker answered with one from the same spot on the opposite end of the court. A South Carolina turnover led to consecutive buckets for the Lady Vols, which South Carolina answered with a 7-0 spurt. Walker hit a step-back jumper then buried a 3-pointer from the left wing after Bruner stepped into draw an offensive foul on the subsequent Tennessee possession. Markeisha Grant swiped a steal from Simmons and hit the layup to bring South Carolina within five, 52-57, with 4:57 left to play.
The Lady Vols capitalized on trips to the free throw line for their next four points, and Kelley Cain pushed the lead back to double digits with a move on the right block. From there, Tennessee did not look back.
South Carolina held its own in the paint against the much taller Lady Vols, as Tennessee out-scored the Gamecocks inside just 38-36. Tennessee counteracted 25 South Carolina points off turnovers with 24 second-chance points off 15 offensive rebounds.
For 15 of the 20 minutes in the second half, only Walker and Sutton found their way into the scoring column for the Gamecocks. Sutton joined Walker in double figures with 11 points. Walker led the team in rebounding for the second-straight game, grabbing eight, including six on the offensive end.
South Carolina continues a three-game home stand on Sun., Jan. 23, against Alabama. Tipoff at Colonial Life Arena is scheduled for 2 p.m.