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Jan. 31, 2010

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WBB Post-Game Blog: Tough Lessons

Coach Staley
Valerie Nainima and La’Keisha Sutton

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -Kamiko Williams scored a career-high 17 points to help No. 5 Tennessee edge South Carolina 60-55 on Sunday.

The Lady Vols (19-1, 7-1 Southeastern) fell behind 13-0 and never led until 7:53 was left in the game. But they finished on an 8-1 run to beat the Gamecocks (11-10, 4-5) for the 38th straight time.

Tennessee trailed 54-52 before Kelley Cain got consecutive lay-ups to take a two-point lead with 1:57 to go.

The Gamecocks had their chances down the stretch. La’Keisha Sutton missed two free throws with 1:20 to go that could have tied it. South Carolina would miss its final six shots and turn the ball over twice in the final four minutes, squandering the team’s first chance to beat the Lady Vols in 30 years.

Williams saved Tennessee on a night its three leading scorers struggled. Angie Bjorklund, Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen together average 41 points a game, but combined for just 18 against South Carolina.

Instead, the Lady Vols turned to their resevere inside players late in the game. Alyssia Brewer’s short jumper gave them their first lead at 47-46 with 7:53 to go. Brewer would give Tennessee the lead again on a short jumper with 5:12 to go. Then Cain’s two layups put the Lady Vols up for good.

Alyssia Brewer added 13 for Tennessee, while Cain had 10.

It looked like Colonial Life Arena would see its second epic upset in five days for much of Sunday. Tennessee has not only won every game over South Carolina since January 1980 – the last 17 wins have been by at least 12 points. But the Gamecocks have already doubled their SEC win total from last year, and coach Dawn Staley insisted they had the talent to beat the Lady Vols.

The Gamecocks showed their confidence from the start. Sutton buried two wide open 3-pointers and Valerie Nainima added a 3 of her own as the Gamecocks stormed out to a 13-0 lead four minutes in.

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt stared icily at her team each time they trudged back up court. But the Lady Vols then cranked up the defense. The Gamecocks scored just five points in the final 10 minutes of the half to hold on to a 26-25 lead at halftime.

The game went back and forth for most of the second half, but South Carolina couldn’t get the big play at the end. Down by three, the Gamecocks threw away an inbounds pass with 21.8 seconds to go. They made 7-of-16 3-pointers, but Nainima missed two 3s late that could have cut the deficit to two.

Sutton led South Carolina with 19 points, while Nainima scored 16 and Kelsey Bone added 11 points and six rebounds.