NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A’ja Wilson had 24 points and 12 rebounds coming off the bench and eighth-ranked South Carolina beat No. 12 Tennessee 73-62 on Friday night in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
The Gamecocks (24-6) are back in the semifinals as they chase a fourth straight tournament title, which has never been done in the SEC. They will play No. 14 Missouri or No. 19 Georgia in the semifinals Saturday.
Coach Dawn Staley wasn’t sure if the three-time SEC player of the year would play in the SEC tournament. Now the Gamecocks look primed to break its tie with Tennessee for most consecutive tournament championships at three apiece. Wilson didn’t start against the Lady Vols after missing the regular season finale at Tennessee with vertigo.
Wilson came off the bench with 6:29 left in the first quarter. She scored six points and grabbed three rebounds to prove quickly she’s healthy.
Alexis Jennings had 19 points and 12 rebounds for South Carolina. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan also had 15.
Tennessee (24-7) lost for the 100th time in SEC play in program history with the Lady Vols’ worst shooting performance of the season. Anastasia Hayes led Tennessee with 17 points, and Jaime Nared added 15 points and 13 rebounds and Mercedes Russell had 12 points.
Not only did the Gamecocks have Wilson back, but Jennings gave them a much better game than she did last weekend against Tennessee. In the regular season finale, Jennings had just three points and seven rebounds. She nearly had a double-double by halftime.
Tennessee had its only lead at 3-2 before a pair of free throws by Cliney put the Gamecocks ahead to stay. South Carolina led 16-9 after the first quarter and 33-23 at halftime. The Lady Vols scored eight straight to pull within 46-43 of the Gamecocks.
Herbert Harrigan’s jumper started a 13-0 run by South Carolina, and Doniyah Cliney’s 3 capped the spurt with 8:15 left and a 59-43 lead. The Gamecocks led by as much as 18 with Tennessee not hitting a shot in the fourth until Nared’s jumper with 6:38 left.
Tennessee: The Lady Vols hit just 8 of 40 (20 percent) in the first half and finished with a season-low 26.7 percent (23 of 86). That was much worse than the 35.3 percent shooting they had in a loss to Alabama on Feb. 15.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks snapped a three-game skid to Tennessee. … They outrebounded Tennessee 50-43 and had a 46-36 scoring edge in the paint. That helped them overcome a season-high 27 turnovers the Lady Vols turned into 26 points.
Tennessee: Waiting for NCAA Tournament bracket announcement.
South Carolina: Semifinal on Saturday.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker