COLUMBIA, S.C. - Tennessee should try this Carolina weekend more often.
It was an easy drive for Tennessee fans. And it was an easy win for two Tennessee teams.
The second-ranked Lady Vols continued what the Vols started this weekend at the Colonial Center. They improved their record to 14-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC with a 71-48 victory against the Gamecocks (11-6, 0-2).
Sunday afternoon's victory came less than 24 hours after UT's eighth-ranked men's team routed South Carolina 80-56 at the same arena. And it was every bit as decisive, which is hardly surprising.
The Lady Vols have won 35 consecutive games against South Carolina. The last 16 of those victories have been by 14 or more points.
UT's latest victory came before a crowd of 7,841, the fourth-largest in South Carolina women's basketball history. Many in the crowd were wearing orange, and they had plenty to cheer about from the outset.
In fact, the Lady Vols were so dominant defensively in building a 37-14 first-half lead, the second half became inconsequential.
"They came out and forced us to turn the ball over a little bit in the first half," South Carolina coach Susan Walvius said.
A "little bit?"
UT forced 18 of South Carolina's 30 turnovers in the first half. The Lady Vols did most of that damage with a suffocating full-court press that often had post players Candace Parker (6-foot-5) and Nicky Anosike (6-4) bedeviling the smaller Gamecocks in the back court.
"Both of them can play effectively in our press," UT coach Pat Summitt said. "When they do, it's hard to throw over them. You almost have to look to beat them off the dribble."
During an early timeout, Walvius said one of her players expressed the frustration of contending with UT's too-tall defense.
"She said, 'I can't see; I just can't see,' " Walvius said.
The Gamecocks needed 16 seconds to get the ball past mid-court on one first-half possession, and 14 on another. Three times in the first half, they failed to get off a shot before the 30-second clock expired.
"We had worked in practice to try and attack (the press) on the dribble," Walvius said. "The opportunities were there, but we tried to pass around them instead."
Too many of those passes ended up in the hands of the Lady Vols, who had 18 steals - 12 in the first half.
Parker had four steals to go with her 15 points. Anosike had three steals and 12 points. Point guard Shannon Bobbitt, who also had three steals, led the Lady Vols with 20 points.
"In our press, the bigs just have to be active," Parker said. "I know if I get beat, I have four defenders behind me to help me out."
The Gamecocks rarely beat UT's aggressive defense in the first half.
Ilona Burgrova, a 6-6 senior center, scored 11 of her team-high 16 points in the second half. She also had a game-high 13 rebounds for South Carolina, which played without starting forward Lakeisha Tolliver, who missed her third consecutive game with an undisclosed illness.
The one-sided victory drew mixed reviews from Summitt, who appreciated her team's intensity and execution on defense but questioned its shot selection and rebounding.
"We played in spurts," Summitt said. "We didn't get into a good rhythm early on. We were jump-shooting the basketball. We did a better job in the second half establishing our inside game."
UT hit just 40 percent of its field-goal attempts. Bobbitt was 7-for-10, which included four 3-pointers, and Parker was 6-for-11. The rest of the Lady Vols combined to make only 13 of 44 shots.
Although South Carolina outrebounded UT 41-33, that was somewhat misleading. Plagued by their 30 turnovers, the Gamecocks attempted 17 fewer shots than UT.
"I know my expectations are high," Summitt said. "But I know what this team brings to the court. I know how talented they are."
UT's talent has been especially evident after losing to its only game, to Stanford on Dec. 22. Since then, the Lady Vols have won four consecutive games, including three against nationally ranked teams, by an average of 28 points.
They will return to action next Thursday against Kentucky in Lexington.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.