The Lady Vols (14-7, 5-3 SEC) earned a road win over an AP top-five opponent with a 76-74 victory over No. 4 South Carolina (18-2, 8-1 SEC) on Monday night. Tennessee’s last road win over a top-five team came on Jan. 6, 2007, when the Lady Vols defeated No. 5 Connecticut.
“For us, it was just a battle of will,” Lady Vols head coach Holly Warlick said after the game. Tennessee battled all game long, forcing the Gamecocks into 13 turnovers.
Led by junior guard Jaime Nared, who had a career-high 27 points, the Lady Vols snapped the Gamecocks’ 29-game home conference winning streak. With the game tied at 74-74 in the waning seconds of the game, Nared knocked down two go-ahead free throws to give Tennessee the lead, and eventually the win.
Nared was 11-of-12 from the free throw line in the second half, including her two late makes. When asked what was going through her mind in those pressure situations, she credited the emphasis put on free throws at practice.
“Just taking your time,” Nared said, “… and focusing, and knowing that all of the reps that you put in, in practice, and all of the games before, are going to pay off.”
Down by 11 points at one point in the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks crawled back to tie the game at 74-74 after a big 3-pointer from South Carolina guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore with 14.7 seconds remaining. Tyasha Harris was then called for a controversial blocking foul on Nared, which led to Nared’s go-ahead free throws. After Cuevas-Moore clanked a three off of the rim as time expired, Tennessee was celebrating its third top-10 win of the season.
In the first half, the Lady Vols and South Carolina went back-and-forth before Tennessee took a 39-36 lead into halftime. Junior guard Diamond DeShields led the way at intermission with 12 points and five rebounds.
To add to Nared’s career-high 27 points, DeShields dropped in 21 points, while center Mercedes Russell had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Entering the game, South Carolina post players A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates were averaging a combined 30 points and 18 rebounds. The two star players were limited to just 21 points and 13 rebounds on Monday night, as the Lady Vols defense created havoc for the Gamecock offense early and often. Wilson and Coates also got into early foul trouble, preventing either one from getting into any sort of rhythm on offense.
After back-to-back road wins, the Lady Vols return home on Thursday night to face LSU (15-6, 4-4 SEC). Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET and will be streamed live on SEC Network+.
Edited by Robert Hughes
Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics