[title_box title=”Turnovers haunt Lady Vols in loss to No. 3 Gamecocks”]
An aroma of frustration consumed the postgame press conference air when Tennessee player Diamond DeShields approached the podium. She and the Lady Vols knew that they let another game slip away.
“We lost the game in the second quarter,” DeShields said. “We did basically everything we wanted to do defensively.”
Tennessee’s 62-56 loss to the No. 3-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks adds to a string of close losses to ranked teams for the Lady Vols.
The first half played right into the hands of Tennessee. After the Gamecocks took a quick 2-0 lead, the Lady Vols dictated the pace both offensively and defensively, opting for a slower, uglier, low-scoring game.
The plan was successful. South Carolina shot only 32 percent from the field in the first half, but the Lady Vols were unable to capitalize offensively either, and eventually trailed 24-21 at halftime.
Other than shooting 31 percent itself in the first half, Tennessee’s season-long theme of unforced errors continued. Due to errant passes out of bounds and balls slipping through the hands of players, the Lady Vols could not distance themselves from the Gamecocks.
“We win in most of the categories except the turnovers,” coach Holly Warlick said after the game. “You’re not gonna win many games with 19 turnovers.”
The third quarter could not have gone better offensively for Tennessee. After attempting only two free throws as a team in the first half, the Lady Vols began the second half aiming to battle their way to the charity stripe. They accomplished just that, attempting 16 free throws in the third quarter alone, converting on 12 of them.
However, the Gamecocks would ultimately prove why they are back-to-back SEC champions through adjustments. After drawing a litany of fouls early on in the third frame, South Carolina switched to a zone defense the Lady Vols simply could not penetrate.
They also received a much-needed spark on offense from Tiffany Mitchell.
With the crowd roaring, Mitchell approached the three-point line and drilled a crowd-silencing three-pointer to tie the game at 35. From that point forward, Tennessee could not regain momentum, and South Carolina became the aggressor.
Gamecock forward A’Ja Wilson gave South Carolina (24-1, 12-0 SEC) a 46-39 lead early in the fourth quarter. After the Lady Vols came within three points, Wilson then knocked down two free throws. Tina Roy’s three-pointers with 6:16 and 2:21 left placed a final nail in any chance of a Tennessee comeback.
Wilson’s domination in the low post was key for the Gamecocks. The Lady Vols controlled the low post in the first half, holding Wilson to just 3-of-9 shooting in the first half. But Wilson would not be denied by Tennessee center Mercedes Russell in the second half, hitting 5-of-6 from the floor.
Wilson led all scorers with 25 points and blocked five shots while holding Russell to 2-of-8 shooting in the game.
With the loss, Tennessee (15-10, 6-6 SEC) has both set an unwanted program record while also potentially ending another record. No Lady Vols team has lost more conference games than this team has, and the streak of 545 consecutive weeks in the AP Top 25 is in serious jeopardy.
“We’re on unchartered water right now,” Warlick said. “We just have to keep working.”
DeShields led all Tennessee players with 21 points, but her awareness of the current state of the program made the points worthless.
“There’s a lot of negativity surrounding us,” DeShields said.
The Lady Vols take on Ole Miss next at home this Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.
Featured image by Wade Rackley
Edited by Cody McClure