Hoops Preview: SEC Championship: Lady Vols vs. #1/1 South Carolina

Hoops Preview: SEC Championship: Lady Vols vs. #1/1 South Carolina

No. 3 seed Tennessee (23-10, 13-3 SEC) has advanced to the championship game of the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the first time since 2015 and will meet No. 1/1 South Carolina (31-0, 16-0 SEC) at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C.

UT is making its 24th appearance in the SEC title contest and will be vying for its 18th conference tournament trophy. It has a 17-6 record all-time in those marquee matchups. The Lady Vols are back in this game for the first time since 2015, when they fell in Little Rock, Ark., to a No. 1 seeded South Carolina squad as a two-seed, 62-46. UT had won the crown the year before in Duluth Ga.

The Big Orange women have won six of their past seven games and 19 of their past 24, with the only losses during that span coming at No. 3 Stanford (77-70), vs. No. 4 UConn (84-67), at No. 5 LSU (76-68), at Mississippi State (91-90 2OT) and vs. No. 1/1 South Carolina (73-60). UT collected a signature win on Saturday night, taking down No. 4/3 LSU in the SEC Semifinals, 69-67.

UT advanced to Sunday’s title game by overcoming a 17-point second-quarter deficit, outscoring No. 4/3 LSU 43-26 over the final 20 minutes to upend the Tigers, 69-67. Tennessee evened the season series vs LSU with the victory, avenging a 76-68 setback in Baton Rouge on Jan. 30.

The Lady Vols will try to do the same against the top-ranked Gamecocks on Sunday, but they’ll have to do it in an arena that will have a heavy Garnet and Black presence. UT fell to South Carolina earlier this season on Feb. 23, 73-60, in Knoxville.

USC breezed into the championship game with an 80-51 victory over No. 4 seed Ole Miss in the semifinals on Saturday and a 93-66 triumph over Arkansas on Friday in the quarterfinals.

This marks the 64th meeting between these programs, with Tennessee maintaining a 51-12 advantage.

BROADCAST INFORMATION

  • Sunday’s game will be televised by ESPN, with Courtney Lyle (PxP), Carolyn Peck (Analyst) and Brooke Weisbrod (Reporter) on the call.
  • All of the games included in the ESPN package (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU) will be available through WatchESPN, accessible online at WatchESPN.com, on smartphones and tablets via the WatchESPN app, and streamed on televisions through Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360 or Xbox One to fans who receive their video subscription from an affiliated provider.
  • The contest also can be heard on Lady Vol Network stations and by audio stream, with Brian Rice on the call and Andy Brock serving as studio host. 
  • A link to the live audio stream can be found on the Hoops Central page or the schedule on UTSports.com.
  • For a list of Lady Vol Network affiliates, please click on the Fans tab at the top of UTSports.com, select Vol Network and then click on the Vol Network Affiliates tab.
  • Air-time for games on the Lady Vol Radio Network generally occurs 30 minutes prior to tip-off.

TENNESSEE IN THE SEC TOURNAMENT

  • Tennessee is seeking to capture its league-leading 18th SEC Tournament championship trophy and is 17-6 in title games.
  • UT won in 1980, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
  • The Lady Vols have been runners-up on six occasions, including 1982, 1990, 1991, 1995, 2003 and 2015.
  • UT last advanced to the title game in 2014 and 2015, winning in 2014 as a #2 seed, 71-70, over #4 Kentucky and falling as a #2 seed to #1 South Carolina, 62-46, in 2015.
  • Tennessee enters Sunday’s game with an 84-26 (.764) all-time mark in the 44th year of the tourney. 
  • In SEC Tournament play, the Big Orange women are 3-3 vs. South Carolina, with the teams last meeting in 2021 in the semifinals in Greenville and the No. 2 seed Gamecocks prevailing, 67-52, over the No. 3 Lady Vols.
  • Tennessee picked up its last win vs. USC in tourney play during 2012 semifinals in Nashville, as the No. 2 seeded Lady Vols collected a 72-58 win over the No. 6 Gamecocks en route to the title that season.
  • The Lady Vols are now 39-5 all-time in their opening game of the SEC Tournament and are 27-12 in their second contest of the tourney.
  • They have made 36 berths all-time in the semifinals and are 24-12 in those contests after toppling No. 2 seed LSU in 2023, 69-67.
  • The Big Orange women are 29-10 in SEC Tournament play since 2007-08.
  • Tennessee has had 15 SEC Tournament MVPs through the years.
  • Isabelle Harrison (2014), Glory Johnson (2012), Shekinna Stricklen (2011) and Alyssia Brewer (2010) were the past four MVPs from Tennessee.
  • The Lady Vols won the very first SEC Tournament title in 1980, defeating Ole Miss, 85-71, at Stokely Athletics Center in Knoxville.

2023 SEC TOURNEY UT SUPERLATIVES

  • Rickea Jackson is averaging 30.0 ppg. and 7.0 rpg. while shooting 61.3 percent from the field and 95.7 percent (22-23) from the free-throw line during the 2023 SEC Tournament.
  • Jackson’s season-high 34 points against Kentucky in the quarterfinals were the most scored in any game by a Lady Vol since Diamond DeShields had 34 vs. Georgia on Feb. 5, 2017.
  • Jordan Horston (19.0) and Tess Darby (11.0) are also scoring in double figures for the weekend, while Horston leads the team in rebounding at 8.5.
  • Darby is six of 10 beyond the arc in two games here.
  • Jordan Horston’s career-best seven blocks vs. Kentucky on Friday night tied centers Tamari Key (2020) and Kelley Cain (2009) for most swats ever in an SEC Tournament contest by a Lady Vol.
  • Rickea Jackson’s 22-of-23 effort (95.7 pct.) at the charity stripe is fueling her team to 88.2 pct. (45-51).

TENNESSEE ALL-TIME VS. NUMBER ONES

  • Tennessee is 14-37 all-time vs. No. 1 ranked teams (AP and USA TODAY Coaches Polls).
  • The Lady Vols are 2-13 at home, 6-9 away and 6-15 at neutral sites.
  • UT’s last victory over a No. 1-ranked foe came on March 6, 2005, when a Pat Summitt-led squad claimed a No. 5/4 vs. No. 1/1 match-up vs. LSU in the SEC Championship game in Greenville, S.C., 67-65.
  • The last time the Big Orange took down a No. 1-ranked team at home was on Jan. 1, 1996, when the No. 4/5 Lady Vols toppled No. 1/1 Louisiana Tech, 77-72. UT head coach Kellie Harper was then known as freshman point guard Kellie Jolly, contributing two assists and two steals in 14 minutes to the victorious cause.
  • Harper has led Tennessee vs. a No. 1 squad as coach on four occasions, standing 0-4 thus far.
  • UT fell vs. No. 1/1 South Carolina, 73-60, on Feb. 23, 2023, in the last such meeting. 
  • The highest-ranked opponent a Kellie Harper team has defeated was No. 2/3 South Carolina in Knoxville, 75-67, on Feb. 18, 2021.

LOOKING BACK AT THE LSU GAME

  • The Lady Vols erased a 17-point second-quarter deficit to take a 69-67 victory over 4/3 LSU in Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Saturday night and advance to the program’s first SEC Championship appearance since 2015.
  • No. 3 seed Tennessee trailed by 14 at the half and fell behind by 16 in the early going of the third quarter, but the Big Orange stormed back by outscoring the No. 2 Tigers 43-27 over the final 20 minutes to pick up their signature win thus far of the 2022-23 campaign.
  • Senior Rickea Jackson was UT’s (23-10, 13-3 SEC) leading scorer, posting a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds.
  • Fellow senior Jordan Horston also had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
  • Sophomore Jillian Hollingshead and junior Tess Darby each had productive performances as well, finishing with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
  • LSU (28-2, 15-1 SEC) was led by Angel Reese, who recorded a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Alexis Morris added 20 points.

THOSE COMEBACK KIDS

  • Tennessee’s comeback from a 17-point deficit was the largest of the Kellie Harper era.
  • Previously, the largest deficit successfully erased during Harper’s tenure was 16 points against #2/3 South Carolina on Feb. 18, 2020, in a 75-67 UT triumph in Knoxville.

CASHING IN AT THE LINE

  • Tennessee shot 84 percent from the free-throw line against LSU, hitting 21 of 25 on the night.
  • In the previous outing, UT managed a season-best 24 of 26 from the line.
  • Through two games of the SEC Tournament, the Lady Vols have scored 45 points from the charity stripe and are hitting 88.2 percent of their free throws.

‘KEA KEEPS THE STREAK GOING

  • Jackson’s 26 points against LSU marked her eighth straight contest with 20 or more points.
  • Her eight-game streak surpasses lofty seven-game efforts by Candace Parker (2006-07) and Bridgette Gordon (1987-88) and pulls her within one of Chamique Holdsclaw’s program-best spree, when the four-time All-American recorded nine in a row during the 1997-98 season. 

SEEING DOUBLE

  • Seniors Rickea Jackson (26/10) and Jordan Horston (17/10) both posted double-doubles against South Carolina, marking the third time this season two Lady Vols have managed a double-double in a single game.
  • Previously, Jackson (25/12) and Horston (15/12) carded double-doubles at Arkansas, while Jillian Hollingshead (18/12) and Rickea Jackson (28/11) recorded double-doubles at Mississippi State.  

TESS FOR THREE

  • Tess Darby pitched in two threes against LSU, marking the 21st time this season she has hit multiple treys in a game and the 13th time against an SEC opponent.
  • She now has 122 three-pointers in her career, moving within 11 treys of catching Sidney Spencer to land among the top 10 career totals in program history.
  • With 64 of those long balls coming during the current campaign, she is three away from entering the single-season top 10 at Tennessee.

UT/USC NOTES

  • Tennessee is 23-4 in Knoxville, 21-4 in Columbia and 7-4 at neutral sites vs. South Carolina.
  • The Lady Vols are 3-3 vs. USC in the SEC Tourney.
  • UT is 5-4 vs. USC in the postseason and is 1-0 in OT, taking a 79-73 extra-frame decision over the Gamecocks in the Palmetto State on Feb. 15, 1996.
  • Tennessee captured the regular-season meeting two years ago, coming from 16-down and erasing a 15-point third-quarter deficit en route to toppling the No. 2/3 Gamecocks in Knoxville, 75-67, on Feb. 18.
  • Kellie Harper has a 2-7 record vs. USC as a head coach. She is 1-4 while at UT and was 0-1 at Western Carolina and 1-2 at NC State.
  • Harper was 5-0 vs. USC as a player, participating in the only OT game between these schools in 1996.
  • Since 2010, USC has won seven and UT four SEC regular-season titles, with UT winning or sharing in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015 and USC doing so in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2020, 2022 and 2023.

A LOOK AT THE GAMECOCKS

  • Guard Zia Cooke leads the Gamecocks in scoring (15.0 ppg.) and three-pointers (55).
  • South Carolina’s inside presence is embodied by Aliyah Boston (13.2 ppg., 9.8 rpg., 64 blks.), Kamilla Cardoso (9.9 ppg., 8.9 rpg., 61 blks.) and Laeticia Amihere (7.2 ppg., 3.4 rpg., 33 blks.).
  • USC produces 81.7 ppg. and 49.9 rpg. while holding opponents to 50.9 and 28.9, respectively.
  • South Carolina outscores foes +30.8 and outboard them +21.0.

SOUTH CAROLINA’S LAST GAME

  • Laeticia Amihere scored 17 points and Aliyah Boston posted her 80th career double-double to lead No. 1 South Carolina into the SEC Tournament final for the eighth time in nine seasons with an 80-51 victory over Mississippi on Saturday.
  • Boston had 10 points and 11 rebounds as the Gamecocks (31-0) won their 37th straight game. They will take on Tennessee for the conference championship on Sunday.

LAST MEETING BETWEEN UT, USC

  • The Lady Vols led by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, but No. 1 South Carolina bounced back and staved off a second-half rally to earn a 73-60 victory on Feb. 23 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
  • Senior Rickea Jackson was the top scorer for Tennessee (20-10, 12-3 SEC) with 21 points and five rebounds. Fellow senior Jordan Horston turned in a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and sophomore Karoline Striplin also had a double-digit outing with 11 points on the night.
  • Unbeaten South Carolina (28-0, 15-0 SEC), which won its 34th straight contest, was led by Zia Cooke with 19 points. Brea Beal posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Kierra Fletcher and Aliyah Boston had 15 and 11 points, respectively.

-UT Athletics

Lady Vols vs. South Carolina / Credit: UT Athletics

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