KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) — The No. 22/22 Lady Vols couldn't overcome the high-powered offense of No. 1/2 South Carolina, falling 69-48 in Colonial Life Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Tennessee (17-5, 7-2 SEC) was led by junior Rennia Davis who posted a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while freshman Tamari Key blocked a career-high nine shots to set a new Lady Vol freshman single-game record.
Zia Cooke led USC (21-1, 8-1 SEC) with 20 points. Destanni Henderson and Aliyah Boston were also in double figures, finishing with 12 and 10, respectively.
Tennessee got off to a rocky start with turnovers on its first two possessions, but Lou Brown got UT on the board by scoring on a layup to tie the game at two-all a minute in. Key kept the Lady Vols in it defensively, blocking three shots in the first three minutes of play, but South Carolina managed an 8-4 lead before the media timeout. Rae Burrell gave Tennessee a spark offensively, hitting a 3-pointer following the break, but South Carolina rallied with five quick points to lead by eight at the 2:44 mark and then closed out the quarter with a 6-0 run to take a 21-9 advantage into the second period.
Both teams struggled to score at the outset of the second quarter, combining for just three points in the opening four minutes. Tyasha Harris broke the slump with a jumper for USC, while Davis answered on the other end to make the score 24-13 Gamecocks with 5:44 left in the half. Following a timeout, Harris hit a 3-pointer to set off a 10-2 run that would put USC up 34-15 by the 2:37 mark. The 19-point deficit would hold until Kasiyahna Kushkituah and Jazmine Massengill combined for four unanswered points to close out the quarter and bring the halftime score to 38-23.
The Lady Vols picked up where they left off in the second half, scoring the first six points of the period to extend their run to 10-0 and cut the lead to nine just over two minutes in. Three and a half minutes later, the Gamecocks had built their lead back up to 14 at 45-31, but Davis responded with five straight points for UT to cut the lead to 11 with 2:26 remaining in the quarter. Henderson heated up for USC in the closing minutes, scoring seven points off a 9-0 South Carolina run that moved the score to 56-36 entering the final stanza.
The teams largely traded baskets through the opening minutes of the fourth. Tennessee mounted a 5-0 run with 3:14 left in the game to cut USC's lead to 16, but LeLe Grissett killed that momentum with an old fashioned three-point play with 1:39 to play, and South Carolina went on to win 69-48.
Up Next: The Lady Vols return home to host No. 9/8 Mississippi State on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m., and the game will be televised by the SEC Network and carried on Lady Vol Network radio stations and via live audio stream on UTSports.com.
Serious Shot Swatting: Freshman Tamari Key blocked a career-high nine shots against USC, a figure that places her at second among UT's single-game leaders (Kelley Cain holds the record with 12) and sets the single-game record among freshmen. She broke the previous mark of seven set by Cain and Candace Parker. Key's season total now stands at 70, which is good for eighth place on UT's all-time single-season list only 22 games into the season.
Double-Double Davis: With 18 points and 10 rebounds against USC, junior Rennia Davis recorded her eighth double-double of the season and the 26th of her career. She ranks 11th all-time in career double-doubles among Lady Vols.
Put Kasi On The Line: Junior Kasiyahna Kushkituah went four of four from the free-throw line on Sunday. She has now hit 14 of 16 free throws in SEC play for an average of 87.5 percent. That's an increase of nearly 40 percent over her career average of .478. UT finished 11 of 12 from the free throw line for 91.7 percent, marking its second-best day of the season.
Defense A Bright Spot: USC entered the game averaging 88.8 ppg. and shooting 49.3 percent in conference games. Tennessee held the Gamecocks to just 69 points on 37.7 percent shooting on the day.