KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Led by a productive offensive night by sophomore forward A’ja Wilson, No. 3/2 South Carolina downed No. 24/– Tennessee, 62-56, to clinch a share of the SEC Regular Season Championship on Monday at Thompson-Boling Arena. Wilson registered her seventh 20-point game of the season for the Gamecocks, who used a 12-2 run midway through the fourth quarter to pull away for their third-straight win over the Volunteers. South Carolina moved to 24-1 overall and 12-0 in SEC play with the victory.
Wilson paced the Gamecocks on the offensive end throughout Monday’s contest and finished the game with 25 points on 8-of-15 shooting. She converted nine of her 11 free throw attempts and added six rebounds to go along with all five of South Carolina’s blocks. Guards Tiffany Mitchell and Khadijah Sessions also finished in double figures, while senior Tiny Roy provided two fourth-quarter 3-pointers to help the Gamecocks extend their lead in the final period.
Redshirt freshman guard Doniyah Cliney’s layup gave South Carolina an early 2-0 lead before the Gamecock shooters went cold, missing their next seven field goal attempts. Tennessee took advantage and built a 7-2 lead midway though the first period, but the Gamecocks responded and cut the deficit to 7-6 behind baskets from Mitchell and Wilson. Wilson’s second field goal of the night came with 28 seconds left in the quarter and helped South Carolina get to within four at 12-8 before the two teams headed to the next period.
Mitchell and Wilson carried the Gamecocks on offense for the majority of the first half, as the two accounted for 10 of South Carolina’s first 12 points of the contest. Another layup by Wilson made it 14-12 Tennessee, and the sophomore again cut the deficit to two at 19-17 following a pair of free throws. The Gamecocks’ offense continued to come from the line over the next few minutes, and four-straight free throws gave them a 21-19 lead with just under two minutes to play in the half. South Carolina buckled down on the defensive end late in the second quarter, forcing the Volunteers to miss six of their next eight field attempts, and a 9-2 run to end the half gave the Gamecocks a 24-21 lead at the break. Roy capped the scoring run with a deep jumper from just inside the 3-point line with seconds remaining in the half.
After Tennessee began the third quarter on a 6-0 run to take a 27-24 lead, it was again Wilson who provided the South Carolina response. She tallied three of South Carolina’s first four field goals over the opening five minutes of the half, including another bucket in the paint that was set up by a pretty entry pass by Mitchell. The basket gave the Gamecocks a 32-30 lead midway through the period, but five free throws from the Volunteers allowed Tennessee to regain the lead. It was Mitchell’s turn to deliver South Carolina’s next answer, as the guard rattled off six-straight points to give the lead back to the Gamecocks before Wilson pushed the advantage to 40-37 with her seventh field goal of the contest. Wilson tallied 10 third-quarter points for South Carolina, which went 6-of-8 from the floor over the period’s final 5:55 to take a 44-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
Wilson’s impressive night in the paint carried over into the final period when she connected on another layup before knocking down two more free throws to give the Gamecocks a 48-43 cushion. South Carolina grabbed its largest lead of the night at 51-43 after Roy converted another timely jumper, hitting a 3-pointer from the corner on the Gamecocks’ next trip down the floor. Roy’s next shot clinched the victory for the Gamecocks, as her second field goal from behind the arc gave South Carolina a 56-45 lead with 2:22 to play. Tennessee scored 11 of the game’s final 17 points before running out of time in Monday’s battle between the two ranked SEC squads.
Guard Diamond Deshields led the Volunteers with 21 points on 7-of-17 shooting, while forward Bashaara Graves chipped in 13 points after knocking down nine of her 10 free throw attempts. South Carolina scored 16 points off of 19 Tennessee turnovers and finished the game with a 24-18 advantage in points in the paint.
Up three points with 7:26 left to play, South Carolina put the game away with a 12-2 run to extend its advantage to 56-45. Senior guard Tina Roy converted two 3-pointers during that stretch.
The Gamecocks forced 10 second-half turnovers and caused the Volunteers to give up the ball 19 times on the night. South Carolina committed just four turnovers over the final 20 minutes.
• South Carolina is the first SEC team to notch three-straight victories over Tennessee since the 1986-87 season.
• The Gamecocks’ 11 wins over ranked opponents this season are the most in program history.
• South Carolina has earned at least a share of the SEC Regular Season Title in each of the last three seasons. The Gamecocks can win the outright title this season with a win over Georgia on Thursday (Feb. 18)
• Guard Khadijah Sessions tallied a season-high 13 points in the victory over the Volunteers. The senior has averaged 8.3 points in league play this year.