Fresh off a nail-biter overtime victory in Oxford against the Ole Miss Rebels, USC fans were likely wondering if the road “struggles” would carry over to Thursday when the Cocks traveled to Knoxville.
I think it’s safe to say the team responded about as well as one could.
Top-ranked South Carolina (28-0, 15-0) defeated the Tennessee Lady Volunteers (20-10, 12-3) Thursday night by the score of 73-60. USC also clinched a share of the SEC regular season title.
Although there was a happy ending to this particular story, it did not necessarily start that way.
The shooting woes from Sunday carried over during the first quarter, which featured the Cocks shooting a combined 25% from the field in addition to missing every shot taken from long range.
The only welcoming sign early was Aliyah Boston’s quick start as she scored the team’s first four points of the contest despite struggles against Tennessee’s zone defense.
On the flip side, the Lady Vols were having their way, shooting 53.3% as a team with Jordan Horston and Rickea Jackson combining for 13 en route to a nine-point lead at the first break.
The tide would then change for good in the second quarter.
Things appeared to be going similarly early as Tennessee took a 26-16 lead with 6:37 to play before the half following a three from Jordan Walker, but Zia Cooke and the Gamecocks had other plans.
South Carolina immediately embarked on a 17-0 run with Cooke scoring the first eight points and USC holding Tennessee scoreless for over six minutes.
The Cocks also made the Lady Vols pay, shooting 3-of-8 from long range in the second quarter after making none in the first, while taking and making outside shots as Tennessee clogs the paint.
So, after a decent sweat to kick this one off, South Carolina went into the half up 33-29.
The runs would only continue for USC in the third quarter as the team this time went on a 12-2 stretch capped off by a three from – who else – Zia Cooke, who finished with 19 points.
Tennessee would embark on some runs in the fourth quarter, but South Carolina always seemed to have an answer up its sleeve right when the Lady Vols started heating up.
USC’s lead would dip to as low as eight with just under five minutes to play in the game, but the Cocks would then go on to score eight of the next nine points to put this one away for good.
Ever since the slow start in the first quarter, South Carolina would go on to score 63 points in the second through fourth quarters, which actually outscored Tennessee’s 60 points, total.
Anyway, despite not being able to run the paint with Boston and Cardoso – the usual blueprint for a Gamecock victory – the Gamecocks found a way, highlighted by stellar play from Kierra Fletcher (who finished with 15 points) and, of course, Zia Cooke.
Next up for South Carolina is its regular season and home finale as the team returns to Columbia this Sunday at noon for a matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs.