Lady Vols nipped by South Carolina

The Lady Vols’ perfect run in the SEC ended on the road Monday at South Carolina in a rugged battle for the league’s regular season title. Go inside with InsideTennessee for game analysis.

Tennessee (23-4, 13-1) may have the first blemish on its league record after the 71-66 loss to South Carolina (26-1, 14-0), but the Lady Vols showed they can battle without leading scorer and rebounder Isabelle Harrison.

The loss of the senior to a season-ending knee injury can’t be overstated in terms of her value to Tennessee, and the Lady Vols were pounded on the offensive glass by South Carolina’s wave of post players.

But Tennessee wiped out a 10-point lead by the Gamecocks late in the second half and were within a possession of tying or taking the lead in the game’s closing minute.

“I cannot fault our effort and our heart,” Coach Holly Warlick said.

Bashaara Graves and Cierra Burdick battled inside in a physical game – Harrison would have feasted with the way the game was called – and combined for 36 points and 17 rebounds.

“They let us play, and that’s OK,” Warlick said. “I thought we hung tough."

Graves logged 36 minutes and tallied 20 points and seven boards. Burdick went 34 minutes and notched a double-double with 16 points and 10 boards.

“We continued to fight,” Burdick said. “Bash did a great job of attacking. We came in here, and we were fearless.”

Burdick was instrumental in keeping Tennessee in the game in the second half when the Gamecocks were trying to get separation. But she likely wishes she had the ball back on the last possession when the Lady Vols trailed by three points, 69-66, instead of a firing a hard pass to a cutting Andraya Carter. The ball was intended to go to Ariel Massengale to attempt a three but instead Carter had to lunge for the ball and was out of bounds.

“We needed a three, obviously,” Warlick said.

Still, that one pass didn’t lose the game for Tennessee. The Lady Vols will look at the board play as the reason for the SEC defeat. South Carolina dominated the glass, 46-33. The Gamecocks had 21 offensive boards to Tennessee’s 11.

“The offensive rebounding by South Carolina absolutely killed us,” Burdick said.

South Carolina led 36-33 at halftime and never trailed, but it took a turnover by Tennessee and two made free throws by Asia Dozier to finally put the game away.

“We were in the game, and we had a chance at the end,” Warlick said. “It was right there for us.”

That far exceeded the national chatter that had written off Tennessee as a factor with the injury to Harrison. But Graves stayed in beast mode, Burdick held her own at power forward, and freshman Jaime Nared provided quality minutes in relief and grabbed five boards.

Carter was the third Lady Vol in double figures with 10 points and played 38 minutes without a turnover.

South Carolina was led by Aleighsa Welch with 19 points and 14 rebounds.

“I commend South Carolina,” Burdick said. “Their inside game is unbelievable. They are like a revolving door in the post.”

The Lady Vols lost the game on the glass, and it wasn’t because of the post rebounding. While the officials allowed push-offs and over the back violations without a whistle, the Tennessee guards didn’t help matters with the lack of box-outs.

“It boils down to get a box-out,” Warlick said. “The guards have to box out.”

The Lady Vols mixed up their defenses with man and zone looks, but the glass woes continued. The first-shot defense was outstanding.

“We got them to miss the first shot,” Warlick said. “We gave up the second shot.”

Both teams took care of the ball – South Carolina had five turnovers to six for Tennessee – and shot relatively the same percentages. Tennessee was 43.3 percent (26-60) overall and 78.6 percent (11-14) from the line, while South Carolina was 42.9 percent (30-70) overall and 71.4 percent (10-14) from the line. Those 10 extra shots were the ballgame for the Gamecocks.

“Disappointed, yes, but it was a great sign for us to see our team battle,” Warlick said.

Tennessee left Columbia with a loss but high spirits.

“We can get so much better,” Warlick said.

“There is still a lot of basketball to be played,” Burdick said.

Game highlights from utsportstv

Cierra Burdick, Bashaara Graves via utsportstv

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