The guards carried the scoring load for the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks, who won second-chance points 18-5 and went on a 43-15 run over the middle portion of the game en route to a 73-60 win over the Tennessee Lady Volunteers Thursday night at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
Brea Beal finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, while Zia Cooke paced the winners with 19 points and Kierra Fletcher added 15 points and three helpers. That’s 61.6 percent of the Gamecocks’ scoring coming from those three guards. Aliyah Boston chipped in with 11 points and four blocks, while her frontcourt mate Kamilla Cardoso had 15 boards and three rejections. South Carolina (28-0, 15-0 SEC) hauled in 20 offensive rebounds with six coming from Beal and five coming from Cardoso. The team averages 18.3 on the season, which is second in the nation.
On the other side, Rickea Jackson was not afraid to take over the game at times, leading Tennessee (20-10, 12-3 SEC) with 21 points. Jordan Horston added 14 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in defeat.
The Gamecocks’ 43-15 run took the score from 26-16 Tennessee at the 6:37 mark of the second quarter to 59-41 South Carolina entering the fourth.
Eighteen is a very difficult deficit to come back from in 10 minutes, but the Lady Vols did their best, cutting it to eight with a Jillian Hollingshed turnaround mid-range make at 4:51 remaining in the contest.
Beal blocked out the elevated noise of the crowd and made a layup at 4:27 to push it back to 10. One minute and 37 seconds later, a Cooke drive and layup made it 69-58. A Boston layup at the two-minute mark and a Raven Johnson free throw line jumper at 1:22 made it 73-58, nearly restoring all the breathing room the Gamecocks had at the beginning of the final frame.
The 43-15 run began with a 17-0 run that took the score to 33-26 South Carolina at 33 seconds to go before halftime. The Lady Vols were held scoreless for six minutes and 27 seconds and it was only with a Karoline Striplin three at 10 seconds left before the break that they were able to salvage any momentum.
Down four at intermission was not so bad, and they cut it to four again at the 7:35 mark of the third with two Jackson free throws. But South Carolina answered that with a 9-0 run that took the score to 46-33. The run featured a Cardoso bucket inside, two Fletcher free throws, a Cooke layup and a Fletcher three. Fletcher is not known as a 3-point shooter, but was 2-of-2 from beyond the arc on the evening.
The final key run of the larger 43-15 run was an 8-0 stretch that closed the third. After two Jackson free throws cut it to 51-41, the Lady Vols went into a full-court press, but to no avail. Fletcher made a jumper in the paint, which Boston followed with a free throw and a wide-open mid-range make. Fletcher then wrapped up the third with a 3-point play off a transition layup.
With her team down 26-16, Cooke made a free throw line jumper at the 6:15 mark of the second. Boston later blocked Sara Puckett in transition and Cooke made a deep three on the ensuing possession to cut it to 26-21. Cooke scored next on another three and then Cardoso and Beal went for back-to-back layups, both of which came offensive rebounds. Fletcher’s first trey of the game made it 31-26 Gamecocks and then Beal rebounded her own missed free throw and dropped in a layup to make it 33-26.
It was back and forth early and tied at 10 with 4:44 to go in the first. Tennessee then went on a 9-0 run. Hollingshed hit from mid-range, Jackson made a short bank shot, Horston finished a layup, Jackson went 1-of-2 at the line and Jasmine Franklin posted a layup off an assist from Puckett.
South Carolina was the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA selection committee’s Thursday night reveal; Tennessee was a No. 6 seed in ESPN’s Tuesday Bracketology.