The Lady Vols fell to South Carolina with a 62-56 defeat in a Big Monday matchup. Go inside with InsideTennessee for analysis and video coverage.
Tennessee (15-10, 6-6) will point to one stat in the box score – turnovers – as the reason for the 62-56 loss to South Carolina (24-1, 12-0).
The Lady Vols prevailed in second-chance, fast break and bench points, but the Gamecocks converted 19 Tennessee turnovers into 16 points.
Diamond DeShields led Tennessee with 21 points, while Bashaara Graves added 13 points and completed the double-double with 10 boards.
Coach Holly Warlick noted after the game that the Lady Vols had a slim margin of error against the No. 2 team in the country, and the turnovers were the difference. The majority came from passes that didn’t meet the mark, and Jaime Nared and DeShields accounted for nine of them – four for the true sophomore in Nared and five for the redshirt sophomore in DeShields.
Nared has had better games – and will have better ones going forward. DeShields is playing through a leg injury – the full extent of which has never really been discussed by her choice – and can be limited at practice. It shows because DeShields and her teammates can’t always get in sync.
She bristled somewhat – a good sign – when asked if the team had time to get on the same page. Tennessee needs DeShields going forward as evidenced by her ability to hit shots. The 7-17 stat line from the field was skewed by DeShields taking shots late in the game when the Lady Vols were behind.
The Lady Vols won the glass battle, 43-30, and held South Carolina to just eight offensive boards. Aj’a Wilson tallied 25 points. Alaina Coates was held scoreless but grabbed 10 rebounds for the Gamecocks.
Both teams opened in man defense, but South Carolina also dropped repeatedly into a zone. Tennessee shot 3-14 (21.4 percent) from long range, while the Gamecocks went 4-13 (30.8 percent).
DeShields pointed to the second quarter as the Lady Vols’ downfall. Tennessee had a 12-8 lead after one quarter but were outscored 16-9 in the second and trailed at halftime, 24-21. Still, the Lady Vols led 35-32 in the third with the scoring margins barely in South Carolina’s favor, 20-18 and 18-17, in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
Andraya Carter acknowledged at the post-game press conference that the Lady Vols are enveloped by negativity, but she also noted, as did DeShields, that the 12 players and four coaches believe in each other.
Tennessee has been in close games – and perhaps those losses have been more difficult for the fan base – but the Lady Vols find confidence in them because they realize they have the potential to play well and win. Carter and DeShields noted several of the losses were self-inflicted – and the miscues against South Carolina can be added to that category.
While the Gamecocks are athletic and defensively sound, Tennessee had too many unforced turnovers if it hoped to beat South Carolina, which has gotten unscathed through 12 league games with four to go. Tennessee, meanwhile, is playing for better seeding at the SEC tourney, and as of now, will open on Thursday without a top four seed bye.
South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley and Warlick both were assessed technical fouls in the game for remarks made to the officials. Tina Napier blew the whistle on Staley, while Denise Brooks collared Warlick. Both are former college point guards and neither seemed pleased with the officials Monday. Staley said she wanted to light a fire under her team; Warlick protested a non-call on Mercedes Russell, who was hacked late as she tried to make a pass, leading to a South Carolina fast break chance.
The Lady Vols take on Ole Miss on Thursday, followed by road games at LSU and Alabama, before closing the regular season at home against Georgia. The stated goal is to win out in the league and take the SEC tourney in March. It’s a formidable task, but this team is capable of doing so. The Lady Vols have to start with taking care of the ball.
RECRUIT WATCH: Two top 2018 guards made unofficial visits to Tennessee. Jordyn Cambridge (Nashville) and Jazmine Massengill (Chattanooga) both were in town for Monday’s game.
Coach Holly Warlick
South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley, A'ja Wilson, Tiffany Mitchell