LADY VOLS PUSH NO. 1 GAMECOCKS TO LIMIT BEFORE FALLING

Courtesy / UT Athletics

LADY VOLS PUSH NO. 1 GAMECOCKS TO LIMIT BEFORE FALLING

Courtesy / UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The Lady Vols pushed No. 1 South Carolina to the limit, taking a tie game into the fourth quarter before falling to the undefeated Gamecocks, 66-55, in front of a season-high crowd of 11,073 at Food City Center.
 
Fifth-year forward Rickea Jackson fired in 19 points to pace Tennessee (15-9, 8-4 SEC) offensively, while junior forward Sara Puckett contributed 15 points and fifth-year guard Jasmine Powell added 12 along with her team-high eight rebounds.
 
South Carolina (24-0, 11-0 SEC) was led by 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso, who notched a double-double effort of 18 points and 10 boards. Ashlyn Watkins added a double-double as well, tallying 14 points and 10 caroms, while Raven Johnson hauled down a game-high 15 rebounds.
 
South Carolina jumped out to a 4-0 lead early, but the Lady Vols stormed back with a pair of layups by Powell and another from Jackson to go up 6-4 at the 6:21 mark. After Cardoso tied it up at six, UT reeled off an 8-2 run, with a bucket by Tamari Key, consecutive layups from Puckett and a jumper by Jackson making it 14-8 with 2:43 to go in the first quarter. The Gamecocks clawed back, however, scoring the last seven points of the period, capped by a MiLaysia Fulwiley three-pointer just before the buzzer, to take a 15-14 lead after one.
 
Powell started Tennessee off right in the second, pushing the ball in transition, generating a lay-up and converting an old-fashioned three-point play to boost her team back in front, 17-15, with 9:23 to go. Jackson counter-punched as well, connecting on a trey to retake the lead, 20-19, at the 8:29 mark. A layup by Cardoso sent the Gamecocks into the media timeout with a 22-20 advantage. Coming out of the break, Jackson tallied three buckets and Puckett added another to stake the Lady Vols to a 28-23 lead with 29 seconds to go. South Carolina’s Watkins ended the first-half scoring on a layup, however, sending UT into the locker room with a 28-25 edge.
 
USC tallied twice to open the second half and take a 29-28 lead, but Powell scored on a layup to push her team back on top 30-29 with 8:28 to go in the quarter. The teams continued to exchange leads before a Jackson fall-away jumper and a Puckett layup sent Tennessee into the media timeout at the 4:11 mark with a 41-39 cushion. The Gamecocks surged ahead, 46-43, on a layup by Sania Feagin with 2:53 to go in the period, but the Big Orange outscored USC 5-2 the rest of the way on a trio of Karoline Striplin free throws and another pair by Jackson just before the end of the period to even the score at 48.
 
The Gamecocks struck first again in the final frame, stepping ahead 52-48 by the 7:51 mark. After a UT timeout, the Lady Vols got a free throw from Powell to cut the gap to three before a 5-0 USC burst gave the visitors a 57-49 lead with 5:21 to go. A Puckett put-back trimmed the deficit to 57-51 heading into the media timeout with 4:30 remaining, but South Carolina built its lead to 62-51 before Jillian Hollingshead tossed home a pair of free throws with 2:07 remaining to stem the run. A Puckett step-back with 58 ticks left was UT’s final tally of the evening in the 11-point loss.
 
Up Next: Tennessee hits the road this weekend, facing Vanderbilt (19-7, 6-6 SEC) in Nashville on Sunday at 1 p.m. CT (2 p.m. ET). The Lady Vols and Commodores are slated to meet in Memorial Gymnasium in a match-up televised by SEC Network and carried statewide on Lady Vol Network stations and streamed via UTSports.com.
 
Stifling Defense Out of the Gates: In the first half of Thursday’s game, the Lady Vols held the nation’s third-best scoring offense to just 25 points, its lowest-scoring half of the season. During the second quarter, the Gamecocks tallied 10 points which tied the lowest in a quarter this season and was the fewest in a second quarter. South Carolina shot 33.3% during the half and committed nine turnovers.
 
The Key To Defense: With two blocks tonight, Tamari Key moved into seventh all-time in the SEC for career blocks. The redshirt senior from Cary, North Carolina, has totaled 33 blocks this season and 328 for her career. 
 
Keeping Things Low: The Big Orange held the top-ranked Gamecocks to their SEC-low point total of 66 on Thursday night. The 66 points also stands as the second fewest by USC this season. Tennessee achieved that in part by keeping South Carolina at bay from deep, holding the visitors to another SEC-low two-made field goals from long range.
 
Sparking The Summitt: Tonight’s contest against the Gamecocks at Food City Center attracted 11,073 fans. The crowd was a season best and is the most for a UT home game since UConn visited on Jan. 26, 2023, with 13,804 spectators seeing the Lady Vols take on the Huskies. In addition, the attendance was the largest in an SEC contest since Feb. 27, 2022, when a crowd of 11,613 saw the Big Orange face off against LSU.

Courtesy / UT Athletics

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