The Gamecocks played without center and national player of the year candidate A’ja Wilson, who didn’t make the trip to Knoxville because of vertigo. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan started in the Southeastern Conference scoring leader’s place and had a team-high 17 points in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Mercedes Russell added 16 points and 12 rebounds for Tennessee (23-6, 11-5), and MeMe Jackson had 10.
South Carolina (23-6, 12-4) had its highest turnover total (21) and lowest points total of the season. The only Gamecocks in double figures were Herbert Harrigan and Doniyah Cliney, who had 14 points.
This marked the second time this season Tennessee played South Carolina when the Gamecocks didn’t have Wilson, who averages 22.9 points and 12 rebounds. Tennessee won 86-70 at South Carolina on Jan. 14 when Wilson was out with an ankle injury.
Tennessee pulled ahead for good by scoring the first 14 points of the third quarter to turn a 26-21 halftime deficit into a 35-26 advantage. Tennessee ended up outscoring South Carolina 29-9 in the third quarter.
The Lady Vols have beaten the Gamecocks three straight times, including a 76-74 road triumph over the eventual national champions last season. Wilson played just 22 minutes against Tennessee last season because of foul trouble.
Wilson’s absence didn’t bother South Carolina early. After Russell sank two free throws to open the scoring, South Carolina reeled off nine straight points by capitalizing on the Lady Vols’ carelessness with the ball.
South Carolina led 15-6 at the end of a first quarter in which Tennessee hit just 3 of 13 shots and committed nine turnovers. Tennessee turned it over only six more times the rest of the game but still didn’t take control until the third quarter.
For the first half of the game, Tennessee’s offense relied almost entirely on Russell and Davis. They were responsible for all of Tennessee’s points until Jackson hit two free throws with 2:03 left until halftime.
Once Russell and Davis got more help, the Lady Vols took over the game.
The SEC tournament begins Friday in Nashville.