South Carolina women beat No. 8 Tennessee 64-60By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer Friday, Feb 3, 2012
It had been 32 years since the Gamecocks last beat the Lady Vols, a drought that included 40 straight defeats. But the coach had a feeling the skid was about to end and her team obliged, beating eighth-ranked Tennessee 64-60 on Thursday night.
Markeshia Grant scored a career-high 27 points and South Carolina got strong performances from the rest of its guards to finally get past the Lady Vols.
“I think anytime when you have an opportunity to play Tennessee year in and year out, you keep measuring yourself, you keep trying to find game plans that will put you in the best possible situation to win,” Staley said. “I thought coming into this particular game with how we were playing, it was our best shot, and we did it.”
The Gamecocks (18-5, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) were down 60-55 when Ashley Bruner hit a layup with 3:18 to play. The basket launched a 9-0 South Carolina run to close the game, and Ieasia Walker hit the go-ahead layup with 2:15 to play.
The Lady Vols led 57-50 with 5:02 to play in the back-and-forth game, but a layup by Walker and a 3-pointer by Grant, one of seven by the senior, fired up the Gamecocks bench. Tennessee remained flat the rest of the way and missed five shots during South Carolina’s game-ending run.
“I’m just glad our players got a chance to experience this experience, knowing the tradition of Tennessee,” said Staley, who had never beaten Tennessee as a coach at either Temple or South Carolina. “By far, this is the biggest win of my career.”
In the final 3 minutes, the Gamecocks forced a turnover by point guard Ariel Massengale and tied up the ball twice. South Carolina gained possession on the second jump ball, preventing Tennessee from getting a chance at a game-tying shot with 47 seconds left.
Tennessee outshot South Carolina 41.4 percent to 39.4 percent and held a 44-36 advantage in rebounding but had little answer for the Gamecocks’ guards. La’Keisha Sutton added 12 points, and Walker had 11.
“We didn’t have an answer for them the last 4 minutes of the game. We didn’t have an answer for their runs,” Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said. “We continue to let star players put up big numbers against us, and that’s been a focal point for us, but obviously it hasn’t been good enough.”
Glory Johnson scored 13 points in 26 minutes for Tennessee (16-6, 7-2), but foul trouble kept her from being the force in the paint the Lady Vols have come to rely on. Massengale scored 12 points and Shekinna Stricklen grabbed 10 rebounds.
The Lady Vols hadn’t dropped an SEC game at home since a loss to LSU on Feb. 14, 2008, but they have struggled in the first season since coach Pat Summitt announced she’d been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
“We have the fan support. We have home-court advantage. We’re sleeping in our own beds before the game. We’re having a great pregame meal. We’re completely prepared with the scouting report from our coaches, so this loss is on us. There are no excuses,” Johnson said.
South Carolina has been laying the foundation for one of its strongest seasons ever. It now owns the program’s best record since the 2001-02 season, when the Gamecocks finished 20-3 and reached the NCAA regional finals.
The Gamecocks have managed the feat with the same kind of sharp focus on defense that has been the hallmark of so many Summitt-coached teams. They entered the game ranked second in the nation in limiting opponents to 47.5 points per game and tops in the nation with 20.1 3-point shooting defense.
That defense frustrated the Lady Vols all over the floor. They struggled to get second-chance points, hit just one 3-pointer and turned the ball over 11 times.
The Gamecocks’ last win over a top-10 team came in a 71-52 decision over then-No. 6 Vanderbilt on Jan. 3, 2002, in Columbia. The highest-ranked team the Gamecocks had defeated in Staley’s four seasons was then-No. 14 Georgia on Feb. 25, 2010, when South Carolina left Athens with a 52-42 victory.
“I really can’t put it into words because I don’t think it has hit me yet,” Sutton said. “I’m really happy for our team, Coach Staley, our coaching staff for preparing us and just every player who ever put on a Gamecock uniform.”
During the team shootaround on Thursday, Staley, South Carolina assistant coach and former Lady Vol Nikki McCray and the rest of the Gamecocks presented to Summitt’s son Tyler a $20,000 check to the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of the Hall of Fame coach.
Soon after that, Staley’s own college coach, former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, spoke to the Gamecocks about believing in themselves. With Staley as her point guard, Ryan’s Cavaliers beat Summitt’s Lady Vols in the 1990 NCAA regional finals.
“We had my college coach Debbie Ryan come talk to our team about everyone believing on one accord, and being on one accord, and anything is possible,” Staley said. “I think our team took that to heart.”