Meighan Simmons’ final regular-season home game in Knoxville was a success as the #9 Lady Vols topped #4 South Carolina, 73-61. With the win Tennessee clinched the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament with the victory over the regular-season champion Gamecocks, who will have the No. 1 seed in Duluth later this week.
The Lady Vols finish the regular-season 24-5 overall and 13-3 in the league while the Gamecocks head to the postseason after suffering their third loss (26-3) and their second conference defeat (14-2).
The first half was a non-stop sprint with both teams shooting well, often through tough defense. The Lady Vols opened up an 8-2 lead before the Gamecocks got their feet under them with an 8-2 run with all eight points coming from Welch and Tiffany Mitchell. The home team answered with a 6-0 run to take a 16-10 lead just six minutes into the game.
While the track meet continued, neither team could put together another substantial run. The difference for Tennessee came from outside the arc, where Andraya Carter hit a pair after the Gamecocks defended well throughout the shot clock. The last of her 3s came just ahead of an Isabelle Harrison bucket that stretched the Lady Vols’ lead to 38-27 with 2:00 remaining in the half. Neither team could connect down the stretch, controlling the defensive glass, but Welch ended the half on a high note for the Gamecocks, hitting a tough jumper in the lane and the resulting free throw with five seconds remaining to make it a 38-30 game at the break.
The Gamecocks got good looks to open the second half, but struggled to finish around the basket, and the Lady Vols were all over the defensive boards. South Carolina continued to work, but could not put together consecutive baskets to cut into Tennessee’s lead. A deep 3-pointer from Asia Dozier at the end of the shot clock brought the Gamecocks within seven at 52-45, and, after Jasmine Jones hit just one of two free throws, Alaina Coates’ putback made it a six-point deficit with 8:41 on the clock.
Tennessee will play on Friday at 6 p.m., against the winner of the Seed 7 vs. Seed 10 game, which will be played on Thursday.
The Lady Vols’ lone senior, Simmons, tallied 16 points as Tennessee posted the wire-to-wire victory — their 11th of the season.
Isabelle Harrison notched her 15th double-double of the season with a game-high 20 points and game-best 15 rebounds. Redshirt freshman Andraya Carter also scored in double-figures with 14 points.
South Carolina was led by Aleighsa Welch, who had 16 points and nine rebounds. Tiffany Mitchell added 11 points and Alaina Coates chipped in with 10.
The Lady Vols committed just seven turnovers and out-rebounding South Carolina, 48-39, led by Harrison’s monster game.
Harrison scored the game’s first six points and Tennessee maintained the lead the rest of the way. The Lady Vols led by as many as 11 in the first half on a Harrison layup with two minutes left. Tennessee held a 38-30 advantage at halftime.
Tennessee overcame a 2-of-10 day from 3-point range and a rough start at the foul line. The Lady Vols missed all four of their first-half free throws and started 5-of-12 before making their final eight from the charity stripe to seal the game.
Tennessee will play Friday at 6 p.m., against the winner of the 7-10 game.