Tennessee Narrow Upset of South Carolina Scrambles the SEC
Tennessee went to the second-toughest court in America and bounced South Carolina from the undefeateds at home in conference, 76-74.
Jamie Nared hit a career high. She hit the basket that defeated Notre Dame earlier. She hit the four three throws that kept Kentucky at bay.
She hit the final four free throws again.
The Lady Vols were helped by a lack of composure by the home team. Good teams have to beat themselves. SC contributed to its own loss.
If it was the future against the past -- South Carolina had won four of the past five confrontations with Tennessee but Tennessee was 44-1 before that.— then Holly Warlick represented well.
Dawn Staley is the pre-eminent coach in the league now . . . even if Tennessee nettled them a bit last season by being the team which went the farthest in the NCAA eliminations.
Tennessee had a plan early.
One was to get Alaina Coates out of the game, buying into her propensity for early foul trouble.
With 5:56 in the quarter, Coates sat down for the half with two fouls.
But there was still A’ja Wilson, 17.8 points in conference, led an 8-0 run and it was 21-14. She scored eight in the quarter.
Another plan was to get Diamond DeShields, a 20.3 average best in conference, interested early.
She will hit 1,000 points at UT, her second season there, near the end of this season.
Check, eight points with three minutes left in the quarter.
Still, SC could counter with Alisha Gray, a former DeShields backcourt mate when they were at North Carolina.
Gray averages 13.9.
She crashed for four defensive rebounds in Coates’ absence. She also scored five.
It settled in at 26-20 as Tennessee forced a shot clock violation. Each side was hitting half its shots.
Wilson picked up a second foul to start the second quarter and she joined Coates on the bench for the half. SC went zone.
Mercedes Russell, UT’s center, seemed free, but she was working for it, with not enough touches.
Jaime Nared followed a DeShields steal and drive with a basket, but Harris hit a 3.
Russell finally got a bunny. She got another when DeShields passed up an open 3. It was 31-28.
An offensive foul, DeShields drawing a second charge, gave it back to UT.
Russell was pulled by Holly Warlick and it became a game of guards, seven turnovers for the home team, five for the visitors.
Nared had five rebounds and eight UT points. Alexa Middleton hit a 3 and it was 33-31.
With each minute, UT believed more and more.
Another turnover and DeShields hit a jumped to tie it. She stole it again. Davis got her second foul on the steal.
DeShields snared a loose ball on defense, hit a court-length pass which Nared laid in, and the Lady Vols still led, 35-33.
Russell took advantage of her height advantage for a rebound hoop. On defense, she came out from under to deflect a pass.
Tennessee appeared to be working harder with the advantage of Wilson and Coates sitting quietly, having made a plus-nine move.
UT forced a second shot clock violation with a minute left.
But SC got it back, took a fast break layup and they were only down one. The defense of the home court was still in play.
DeShields was over covered and so fed Alexa Middleton for a jumper and a 39-36 halftime edge. Defense was winning.
DeShields had 12, Nared 10. South Carolina stayed in it by winning rebounds, 21-13. Tennessee stayed in by hitting 10 percent better from the field.
He crowd, best in America, was slow in arriving. Maybe because the game started an hour early for national cablecast. The 13,698 were all there for the second half.
Disaster loomed early. Wilson picked up a third foul and then protested too exuberantly, for a fourth, non-sportsmanship. This was at 6:13 and she was sitting some more. Nared made all four free throws.
Coates was doing her part. Tennessee was not about to challenge her just because.
In a game of precious points, she scored once and had two rebounds when it was 50-46, homies.
DeShields could not invigorate her teammates. The Lady Vols missed nine shots in the half and one free throw. One of the misses looked all the world like a dunk attempt by Russell on a rebound.
The third quarter ended 53-52, SC. The Gamecocks wasted the last possession holding for a befuddling final shot.
Was SC playing not well or was Tennessee flying? UT’s last points were a rebound layup by Russell. She had a dozen, Nared 16 and DeShields, but only three points in the quarter.
Each side was amazingly exactly 20-of-46 from the field.
DeShields hit a quick jumper to start the fourth and UT was back in front. But Kaela Davis drove on DeShields to tie it. They had been high school teammates. Russell scored. UT regained possession and fed her again.
The four-point lead was Tennessee’s largest of the night. DeShields scored again. She was at her scoring average.
Staley put Wilson back in. Six minutes left.
DeShields made a jumper and it was 69-58, Tennessee’s game to lose.
Bianca Cuevas-Moore got a defensive layup which led to a Wilson layup. Four minutes left. An eternity.
Only DeShields, with three fouls, was in any danger for the visitors.
Coates cut it to seven with her seventh point. An immediate time out. Three minutes left.
Nared missed a layup but Russell with her 11th rebound and a foul. Wilson got a defensive rebound. She scored on the other end, a five-point difference with two minutes left, but both teams at full strength.
Russell fumbled a drive out of bounds, confirmed by a replay check. A big call, though correct.
With 92 seconds left, Tennessee strangely put no pressure on the inbounds.
With a minute to go, Cuevas-Moore stayed in the corner and hit a 3. It was a two-point game.
Nared hit a 15-footer, left open when the defense collapsed on DeShields at 46 seconds. There were four SC players within reaching distance of DeShields when she made the assist.
Tennessee called a time out. Staley used her final time out in a two-possession ballgame.
Wilson got two shots, made the second, and SC fouled to stop the clock. Gray made her fourth stopping it again.
DeShields fed Nared, the league’s top foul shooter. She missed one. She made the second. A three-point game and Russell fouled to allow free throws without a 3 attempt.
Cuevas-Moore hit both. One-point game. Time out Tennessee, their last, 25 seconds left.
SC contested the inbound.
Nared was immediately fouled. She hit one, then another and it was a three-point lead on her 25-point career high.
Cuevas Moore hit a 3. Nared was knocked over with six seconds left. Nothing but net on the first free throw. Made the second.
UT knocked them off, 76-74.
Tennessee had not won against a Top 5 on the road in a decade. The roar was heard from Starkville, Mississippi, where State still is the last SEC undefeated at home, now both with a league loss.
Tennessee needed this one to get to 20 regular season wins. The competitive game on the home floor of No. 4 raises their RPI. They have defeated a third of the Top 10m teams.
DeShields is at All-American level. The NCAA cannot shut them out if they beat the teams they are supposed to beat down the stretch. They are tied for fifth in the toughest league in America at 5-3.
Nared scored 27, 12-of-15 at the line. She was the only player in every minute of this game.
DeShields scored 21. Russell had the double/double, 16 with 10 rebounds.
“It’s the game and my teammates playing so hard, diving for loose balls; that’s what gets me going,” Nared said.
“We practice free throws a lot.
DeShields said of her long-time friends on an opposing team, “First off, it’s just seeing them in a good place. So you wish them luck, afterward.”
Russell said, “We play big in big games. When we play like this, we’re pretty good. When we play like this, it’s pretty hard to beat us.
“Free throws, paint shots, every point was big.”
DeShields said the attack on offense was, “Absolutely the game plan. It’s very hard to stop guards when they are attacking. I am very proud of my teammates, very proud of the coaches, they did a great job of preparing us.”
She said, even in the final minutes they never doubted the outcome.
“We’re winners,” she said. “She was shooting free throws like it was practice.”
Nared said, “We got a lot of transition baskets. Diamond ran out in transition and that’s what got us going.
“It was not a perfect game, but we got scores when we needed to.”
“It’s knowing all that time and the reps will pay off.”
UT hit half its shots. SC had been allowing 36 percent and hitting 45 percent. They hit 46 percent this time. They had been allowing 53 points and scoring 74.
So Tennessee surpassed their defense. They were more aware.
Moore scored 18 off the bench. Wilson got up to 14.
“When we needed to get stops we got ‘em,” said Warlick.
“We just played gutsy the whole game. Our denial, attacking the basket. I thought Diamond started by taking some good shots. Then we started running stuff to her. She attacked the basket, played solid defense and that’s what I wanted her to do.
“We want Jamie Nared on the line. I was shocked she missed that one free throw. When we needed buckets, we went inside.”
Cuevas Moore, she said, “She has ice water in her veins. Maybe we shouldn’t have stepped back from her, but she had to make them.”
The last foul call could have been advantageous to either team. “I hated it came down to that,” Warlick said.
“Of course, I saw a foul and it’s gutsy to make a call in that position.”
“It’s part of the game,” said Staley.
Moving on, “We have no choice. We have to go to Kentucky and play on the road. And we will. We’re resilient, and this is a team that really has not lost a whole lot of games.
“ There’s a reason why where we are because we’re resilient. We’re tough, and we bounce back. You’ll see a team that takes the floor on Thursday that is ready to get back to their winning ways. And we will.
“When you don’t have your two All-Americans for the first half. We never prepared for it . . . you prepare for one of them but never both. It’s a hardship.
“When you don’t have your bigs in there, it’s hard. When they get back in there, it’s hard to adjust the flow.
“There’s a reason we are where we are. We’ll bounce back. It will make us tougher so we don’t have to feel what we’re feeling.
“We got a great team. These are all situations in which we’re learning, we’re growing.”
Wilson said it was tough to sit so much and she concentrated on just cheering them on.
“It’s weird. We have to continuing doing what we’re doing,” she said.
“Every SEC team we play, that’s their blueprint. But we know that. We can bounce back."