Columbia, SC – Senior Mercedes Russell recorded a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double to lead No. 6/6 Tennessee to an 86-70 victory over No. 9/8 South Carolina on Sunday at Colonial Life Arena.
Jaime Nared added 19 points as the Lady Vols (16-1, 4-1 SEC) bounced back from their first loss of the season with a win over the defending national champions and their second consecutive victory in Columbia. UT was fueled by a balanced attack, with five different players reaching double figures.
Tyasha Harris put on an offensive display for South Carolina (14-3, 3-2 SEC) with a game-high 28 points and four assists.
The Gamecocks were able to cut the deficit to four with under six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but Tennessee relied on strong defense and timely scoring to end the game on a 16-4 run.
UT’s freshman trio of Evina Westbrook, Rennia Davis, and Anastasia Hayes had a strong showing in the second half, combining for 29 points over the final 20 minutes. Westbrook finished with 16 points, including 2-for-2 shooting from behind the arc, as well as a game-high five assists, while Davis and Hayes netted 11 points apiece.
Both teams were ready from the tip, with four players on each roster getting on the board in the first quarter. After going through a scoring drought for more than three minutes, UT finished the quarter on a 14-4 run that was sparked by five consecutive free throws from Nared. The 6-foot-2 senior forward led the way offensively with seven points and Meme Jackson added a pair of 3-pointers as Tennessee took a 21-14 lead into the second period.
The Gamecocks’ offense started to click in the second quarter, led by nine points from Harris. With 2:42 left in the half, Doniyah Cliney worked through the lane and converted on a layup to cut the Lady Vol lead to three.
As momentum began to swing back to the home team, Holly Warlick turned to the bench for an answer and subbed in Kortney Dunbar for the first time of the game. The senior forward did not wait long to make an impact, knocking down two 3-pointers just 26 seconds apart to give UT a 43-35 advantage at the intermission. Russell finished the half with 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting to lead the Big Orange.
Tennessee continued to rely on a balanced effort in the early stages of the second half, with three players reaching the 10-point mark by the end of the period. South Carolina was able to keep pace early, but a Davis jumper with 8:37 remaining in the quarter put UT ahead by double digits for the first time of the afternoon. Westbrook stepped up offensively with seven points, as the Lady Vols went into the game’s final stanza holding an 11-point edge.
However, it would prove to be the closest the Gamecocks could get to the Lady Vols, who were able to close out the final five six minutes with a 16-4 run. Westbrook continued her strong play through the late stages of the fourth quarter, scoring nine points during the run.
Jennings finished with 12 points and seven rebounds for the Gamecocks, while LeLe Grissett added 10 points with eight boards.
Three For The Money
Tennessee went 6-of-12 to shoot 50% from behind the arc against South Carolina. Evina Westbrook and Kortney Dunbar were a perfect 2-of-2 from three, while Meme Jackson contributed another two on the day. Dunbar hit two key treys during a 3:00 appearance just before halftime.
The Lady Vols posted a sizzling .564 field goal percentage at South Carolina, their second-best of the season. Tennessee came into the game averaging .471 on the year.
Who You Gonna Guard?
Tennessee had five players in double figures and eight of the nine Lady Vols that saw action scored at least six points. This marks the fourth time this season Tennessee has had five players in double digits and keeps its streak of having at least three players score 10+ points perfect thus far this season.
Next Up for UT Women’s Basketball
The Lady Vols travel to #2 Notre Dame on Thursday, January 18th, 2018 for their final leg of a three-game road swing. The game is scheduled to tip at 6:00pm CT and will be televised on ESPN.