The No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball team recovered from a rocky first quarter to defeat Tennessee 73-60 and continue its undefeated season. The victory also guaranteed the Gamecocks at least a share of the SEC regular season championship.
Tennessee was the first to score, taking a considerable lead near the end of the first quarter. The Lady Volunteers shot more than twice as well as South Carolina, hitting 53.3% of shots in the first period to the Gamecocks’ 25%.
“Tennessee is a team that is playing well at the right time,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “They’re getting better and better and better, and the chemistry is looking great.”
After the shaky start, the Gamecocks went on a 17-0 run in the second quarter to take the lead from the Lady Volunteers and never looked back.
Senior guard Zia Cooke had a run of her own within that period. She scored her first 8 points of the game on a jump shot nearly four minutes into the quarter and quickly followed with back-to-back 3-pointers, which jumpstarted the team's run.
Cooke went on to lead the South Carolina offense with 19 points despite her scoreless first quarter.
Fellow senior guard Brea Beal made her own significant contribution to the game, putting up her second career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds while leading the team with five assists.
The Gamecocks flipped the script offensively in the second quarter, shooting 37.5% in the field compared to Tennessee’s 18.8%. South Carolina's success also came from its ability to dominate in the paint and create second chances on offense, as the team grabbed 18 rebounds in the second quarter alone.
“We tried to just control what the other’s contributions were, and hope that we keep them under control and do what we normally do — rebound that basketball," Staley said.
South Carolina's second quarter turnaround put it in strong position with a 33-29 lead at halftime.
The Gamecocks carried that offensive momentum into the third quarter, landing 64.3% percent of its field goals and both of its 3-point attempts. After 30 minutes, South Carolina led 59-41, a significant improvement from its first quarter performance.
Though the Lady Volunteers proceeded to outscore the Gamecocks 19-14 in the fourth quarter, the late effort was not enough for Tennessee to close the double-digit deficit.
The victory marks the Gamecocks’ 28th of the season and 34th straight, putting the team just one win away from an undefeated regular season.
“You’re not in this position a whole lot in our league because it’s so very competitive that, when you’re here, you want to control your own destiny,” Staley said.
The Gamecocks will return home for Senior Day and look to finish off the unscathed regular season against Georgia on Sunday. Tip-off is set for noon, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN 2.