Playing in its first-ever SEC Tournament semifinals, the Lady Gamecocks took on the dreaded Tennessee Volunteers, who they beat earlier this season in Knoxville in the Gamecocks' season-defining moment. Unfortunately for Dawn Staley's squad, this time around Tennessee put on a clinic in the second half, dominating the Gamecocks with stifling defense, superior rebounding, and dominant interior play. The Lady Vols would win 74-58.
This game was one where our lack of elite front-line play caught up to us. We had no answer for Tennessee forward Glory Johnson or hybrid Shekinna Stricklen, who combined for 39 points. UT center Vicki Baugh racked up 10 rebounds, three blocks, and eight points. Iesia Walker and La'Keisha Sutton have been a revelation this year in the Gamecocks' back-court, but going forward, you have to imagine that Dawn Staley will want to complement her back-court personnel with more dominant front-court talent.
That said, the Lady Gamecocks have nothing to be ashamed of. After years of futility in women's basketball, Staley has helped us break through this year. With a 23-9 record, we're assured a berth in the NCAA Tournament, and we should have a decent seed to boot. That's definite progress. Kudos to the ladies for their superb representation of the university this year.
One thing that I should note is how impressed I was with Staley's comments after the game. When asked about why the game went down how it did, Staley responded, "(The Lady Vols) are so used to being in this situation year in and year out. I think we got out-experienced today along with I think we got out-talented." She also added that she "hope[s] they get coach Summitt another SEC championship," referencing the Vols' hopes to win a championship for legendary Vols coach Pat Summitt, who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. Coach Staley can lose with dignity, which isn't the easiest thing in the world to do. I have a lot of respect for that.