John Adams: South Carolina shows Lady Vols how to play catch-up

John Adams
Tennessee's Meighan Simmons reacts in frustration during the game against South Carolina. 

(SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Saul Young, copyright © 2012

Tennessee's Meighan Simmons reacts in frustration during the game against South Carolina. (SAUL YOUNG/NEWS SENTINEL)

The game unfolded like so many others in the storied history of Tennessee women's basketball. Then South Carolina suddenly and dramatically altered the course of the game and its basketball history Thursday night.

Until the last five minutes, UT's two-time defending SEC champions seemingly had summoned enough resolve to weather another underdog's charge, just as they have so many times at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The eighth-ranked Lady Vols had overcome a career game from South Carolina guard Markeshia Grant and taken a seven-point lead with just under five minutes to play against a team they had beaten 40 consecutive times.

That's when the Gamecocks gave the Lady Vols and history a resounding comeback kick. They rallied down the stretch, making the kind of clutch plays championship teams usually make and pulled off a 64-60 victory that coach Dawn Staley called the "biggest of my career."

"We didn't have an answer for them the last four minutes of the game," UT associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "We didn't have an answer for their runs."

Many Tennessee fans didn't bother sticking around for the clinching points. Maybe they had a premonition based on how confidently and determinedly South Carolina played down the stretch.

Those early departing fans apparently knew what they were doing.

They didn't have to watch South Carolina's La'Keisha Sutton hit two free throws after a timeout to give her team a four-point lead with 12 seconds to play. They also missed a rare, unseemly sight: opposing SEC players celebrating on UT's home floor.

Afterward, South Carolina players joined their 50-or-so fans sitting behind the goal closest to their bench. The crowd included South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier, who has a history of leaving Knoxville with a victory in tow.

The pregame was altogether different. It was another tribute to UT coach Pat Summitt, who is battling early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type.

South Carolina presented a check for $20,000 to Summitt's son, Tyler. The check will go to the national Alzheimer's association.

The feel-good start was followed by a hard, abrupt twist.

South Carolina immediately demonstrated a couple of traits that were prominent in Kentucky's last-second victory over UT three weeks ago.

Like Kentucky, it made the Lady Vols uncomfortable with an aggravating defense. And like Kentucky, it had one very hot shooter. Grant played the role of Kentucky A'dia Mathies, hitting seven of 12 3s, including one with 3:57 to play when Tennessee lost her in transition.

Losing good shooters: That has become an unflattering, repetitive theme for this UT team. So have crucial turnovers, which contributed significantly to a limited Gamecocks offense.

"South Carolina is a pressure team, so you can't turn the ball over," Warlick said. "The turnovers for us resulted in layups for them."

The Lady Vols know what their problems are. They just can't fix them.

They have little tolerance for adversity. They miss too many easy baskets. They have gone dreadfully cold from 3-point range (1-for-8 against South Carolina). And aside from Glory Johnson, individual play vacillates wildly from one game to the next.

Even Johnson had her awkward moments against South Carolina. She fouled out with 12 seconds to play. Her foul trouble wasn't happenstance.

"We needed Glory not to play as many minutes," Staley said. "We wanted to go at her and get fouls."

This was as much about game execution as pregame preparation. And the resulting defeat was the most glaring of UT's six losses — because it didn't come against a top-10 team on the road and because of its impact on the SEC standings.

The Lady Vols now have two more conference losses than first-place Kentucky. Even a UT home victory over the Wildcats wouldn't boost them back atop the SEC. So they're playing catch-up.

At least, South Carolina showed them how it's done.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 9

flatrock writes:

Kamiko enters 2nd half and LVs are down 5; up 4, the staff mysteriously sits Kamiko down and ; by the time the staff gets her back in the game, LVs are down 2. Note to staff: Kamiko is the only LV who can make the post-entry pass on-time and to the open side of the post (the posts- Johnson and Stricklen- are outstanding when fed at the correct time); she cannot play pressure defense, and neither can Ariel- so try another defense; all 5 LV defenders need to go to the glass- instead of one rebounding and 4 streaking the other way (without the ball); maybe LVs need to go to a 2-guard front, instead of burdening Ariel with QBing alone.

huntined#565710 writes:

SC played a good game and it was easy to see they were way faster then the VOLS, and we threw the ball away and had way too many turnovers. Still don't have a great go to player on this team.

JimmyJoe writes:

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE FOR THIS KIND OF POOR EFFORT.... FROM THE TOP DOWN. WE DID NOT COACH WELL ENOUGH TONITE TO BE OUTCOACHED. OUR GIRLS DON'T CARE....OUR POINT GUARD CAN'T POINT OR GUARD BUT SHE STAYED ON THE DANG FLOOR ALL NITE ANYWAY..... STRICKLEN NEEDED TO FIND THE BENCH ABOUT FIVE MINUTES INTO THE GAME AND BE LEFT THERE. WHERE WAS VICKI BAUGH FOR THREE QUARTERS OF EACH HALF? DID PAT FORGET SHE HAD THE TALLEST PLAYER IN THE BUILDING? WHY DIDN'T WE START FOULING WITH FORTY SECONDS LEFT AND PUT THOSE GIRLS ON THE LINE IN A ONE IN ONE SITUATION ABOUT TWO OR THREE TIMES? OH I KNOW WHY BECAUSE WE WOULDN'T HAVE REBOUNDED ANYWAY....AND IF WE HAD WE WOULDN'T HAVE SCORED ON THE OTHER END BECAUSE THE FREAKIN PREMIER PROGRAM IN LADY'S BASKETBALL CAN'T FIND A GIRL WHO CAN HIT A STINKING LAYUP!!!!!!!! THANKS FOR LETTING DOWN THE UNIVERSITY, THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, ABOUT 15000 WHO PAID GOOD MONEY TO SEE YOU STINK IT UP TONITE...AND MOST OF ALL THE ENTIRE STUDENT BODY AT TENNESSEE WHO HAS TO WORK THERE BUTT OFF TO STAY IN SCHOOL WHILE YOU LAZY BUNCH OF GIRLS GET A FREE RIDE. IF YOU ARE NOT TOTALLY EMBARRASSED (AND I REALLY DON'T THINK YOU CARE ENOUGH TO BE)... THEN WE ARE ALL HUMILATED FOR YOU. OH AND BY THE WAY CONGRATULATIONS... YOU JUST LOST THE CONFERENCE TONITE.

RustyVol writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE FOR THIS KIND OF POOR EFFORT.... FROM THE TOP DOWN. WE DID NOT COACH WELL ENOUGH TONITE TO BE OUTCOACHED. OUR GIRLS DON'T CARE....OUR POINT GUARD CAN'T POINT OR GUARD BUT SHE STAYED ON THE DANG FLOOR ALL NITE ANYWAY..... STRICKLEN NEEDED TO FIND THE BENCH ABOUT FIVE MINUTES INTO THE GAME AND BE LEFT THERE. WHERE WAS VICKI BAUGH FOR THREE QUARTERS OF EACH HALF? DID PAT FORGET SHE HAD THE TALLEST PLAYER IN THE BUILDING? WHY DIDN'T WE START FOULING WITH FORTY SECONDS LEFT AND PUT THOSE GIRLS ON THE LINE IN A ONE IN ONE SITUATION ABOUT TWO OR THREE TIMES? OH I KNOW WHY BECAUSE WE WOULDN'T HAVE REBOUNDED ANYWAY....AND IF WE HAD WE WOULDN'T HAVE SCORED ON THE OTHER END BECAUSE THE FREAKIN PREMIER PROGRAM IN LADY'S BASKETBALL CAN'T FIND A GIRL WHO CAN HIT A STINKING LAYUP!!!!!!!! THANKS FOR LETTING DOWN THE UNIVERSITY, THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, ABOUT 15000 WHO PAID GOOD MONEY TO SEE YOU STINK IT UP TONITE...AND MOST OF ALL THE ENTIRE STUDENT BODY AT TENNESSEE WHO HAS TO WORK THERE BUTT OFF TO STAY IN SCHOOL WHILE YOU LAZY BUNCH OF GIRLS GET A FREE RIDE. IF YOU ARE NOT TOTALLY EMBARRASSED (AND I REALLY DON'T THINK YOU CARE ENOUGH TO BE)... THEN WE ARE ALL HUMILATED FOR YOU. OH AND BY THE WAY CONGRATULATIONS... YOU JUST LOST THE CONFERENCE TONITE.

After all that coach Summitt has done and all the games she has won, you let one loss affect you this badly. Seek help now. Oh and BTW, the LV's actually won a national championship a few years back when they had lost 10 games in the regular season. Don't remember that huh?

jt45 writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE FOR THIS KIND OF POOR EFFORT.... FROM THE TOP DOWN. WE DID NOT COACH WELL ENOUGH TONITE TO BE OUTCOACHED. OUR GIRLS DON'T CARE....OUR POINT GUARD CAN'T POINT OR GUARD BUT SHE STAYED ON THE DANG FLOOR ALL NITE ANYWAY..... STRICKLEN NEEDED TO FIND THE BENCH ABOUT FIVE MINUTES INTO THE GAME AND BE LEFT THERE. WHERE WAS VICKI BAUGH FOR THREE QUARTERS OF EACH HALF? DID PAT FORGET SHE HAD THE TALLEST PLAYER IN THE BUILDING? WHY DIDN'T WE START FOULING WITH FORTY SECONDS LEFT AND PUT THOSE GIRLS ON THE LINE IN A ONE IN ONE SITUATION ABOUT TWO OR THREE TIMES? OH I KNOW WHY BECAUSE WE WOULDN'T HAVE REBOUNDED ANYWAY....AND IF WE HAD WE WOULDN'T HAVE SCORED ON THE OTHER END BECAUSE THE FREAKIN PREMIER PROGRAM IN LADY'S BASKETBALL CAN'T FIND A GIRL WHO CAN HIT A STINKING LAYUP!!!!!!!! THANKS FOR LETTING DOWN THE UNIVERSITY, THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, ABOUT 15000 WHO PAID GOOD MONEY TO SEE YOU STINK IT UP TONITE...AND MOST OF ALL THE ENTIRE STUDENT BODY AT TENNESSEE WHO HAS TO WORK THERE BUTT OFF TO STAY IN SCHOOL WHILE YOU LAZY BUNCH OF GIRLS GET A FREE RIDE. IF YOU ARE NOT TOTALLY EMBARRASSED (AND I REALLY DON'T THINK YOU CARE ENOUGH TO BE)... THEN WE ARE ALL HUMILATED FOR YOU. OH AND BY THE WAY CONGRATULATIONS... YOU JUST LOST THE CONFERENCE TONITE.

How many times are going to copy and paste this same post ? Seriously you need to chill out, the world didn't just end, it was a bad loss and just maybe this time they will hear the wake up call and get down to business. South Carolina played outstanding defense and played over their head offensively. Basketball is full of big time upsets and its time to move on and support them on their next game.

pomp_and_circumstance writes:

The truth is the Pat Summit era is over. Other than Glory Johnson, there is not a consistent player on the squad. And I seriously doubt Geno, Tara, Kim, or anyone else could make this bunch perform as a team. All season I have watched with morbid fascination, and sadness, how they get progressively worse. With the entire bench being McDonald's All Americans. And that might be the problem entirely.

All things come to an end, and the Summit era is over. I say this as a rabid LV and Pat fan of many years, and as a realist. It was long and glorious reign, and Pat's "legacy" will never be matched, but it is now over. She can never be replaced, but someone new will have to try.

johnlg00 writes:

A disturbing number of "first-ever" and "first-in-forever" losses for this team. No doubt women's basketball in general has caught up to the standard the Lady Vols have set over the years, so I guess this was inevitable eventually. Still, it is disheartening to see the greatest career in the history of women's basketball end in this way. No one should tell Pat when to retire--she has earned the right to go out on her own terms--but the program will basically be starting over next year, and I seriously doubt Pat will be able--or want--to stick around through another rebuilding job. Besides, with recruits starting to decommit, the material to build toward another championship any time soon may well be lacking. We all wanted the LVs to send Pat out with her ninth championship, and I am sure the team wanted that too, but they just don't seem to have the wherewithal to pull it off. The season isn't over, and LV teams of the past have won the Big One against long odds, but doing it this year with this team is the longest of long shots, and they don't seem to be making many of those these days or stopping them, either. Sad, sad.

mnvol writes:

What was even more baffling to me than the Lady Vols uninspired play (which I've come to expect that from this team), is that with 12 seconds left and the Lady Vols down by 2 points, a fourth to a third of the fans headed to the exits. My wife and I just looked at each other dumbfounded. Your team is down by two with 12 seconds to go, and you get up and leave?

I know this team is disappointing, but why even bother coming to the game if you're going to get up an leave with 12 seconds left when you're team's only down by two?

I'm still shaking my head.

volaholic45 writes:

Is it just me, or is JA's delight in UT sports woes waxing lately?

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