COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Aleighsa Welch had a season-high 19 points and 14 rebounds, Tiffany Mitchell hit two foul shots with 17 seconds left and No. 2 South Carolina outlasted No. 6 Tennessee to remain perfect in Southeastern Conference play, 71-66 Monday night.
The Gamecocks (26-1, 14-0 SEC) led 67-57 with five minutes left and a raucous crowd yelling to end a run of home losses to the Lady Vols that stretched to 1980.
But Tennessee (23-4, 13-1) rallied to score nine straight points and close within 67-66 on Bashaara Graves’ basket with 20.2 seconds left. That’s when Mitchell hit two foul shots to extend the lead.
After Tennessee’s Cierra Burdick turned the ball over on the next possession, Asia Dozier secured South Carolina’s victory with the final two foul shots.
Graves had 20 points to lead the Lady Vols.
Mitchell had 17 points for South Carolina.
Tennessee was looking to keep up a mind-blowing run of dominance over South Carolina, having won 43 of the past 44 meetings. The Lady Vols hadn’t lost in Columbia in nearly two generations since a 56-52 defeat on Jan. 23, 1980.
These Gamecocks, though, are defending SEC champions, spent 12 weeks at No. 1 this season, and have a front line of 6-foot-5 A’ja Wilson, and 6-4 forwards Alaina Coates and Elem Ibiam.
Plus Tennessee was without its leading scorer and rebounder in 6-3 senior Isabelle Harrison, lost for the season with a torn ACL suffered two games ago.
South Carolina’s size took control early, the Gamecocks building a 20-12 lead behind Ibiam’s six points. Once the Lady Vols scratched back tying the game at 26 on Ariel Massengale’s 3-pointer with 5:21 left, it was Ibiam again asserting herself.
She scored six of the next eight points as South Carolina headed into the break up 36-33.
Tennessee did a strong job in the first half on the Gamecocks’ super subs of Wilson and Coates, who’ve combined for 25 points a game. The pair, though, was held to 15 points on 6 of 13 from the field.
South Carolina opened an 11-point lead midway through the final period before Tennessee made its late run.
Coach Dawn Staley’s club broke a 40-game series losing streak with a victory at Tennessee in 2012.
Tennessee: Harrison was a major factor in the Lady Vols’ last two victories over South Carolina. She has scored 38 points, grabbed 29 rebounds and added seven blocks.
South Carolina: Welch’s 14 rebounds against Tennessee lifted her to fifth all-time in South Carolina boards, surpassing Denise Nanney, who had 877 from 1975-77. Welch stands at 890 for her career.
Tennessee travels to Georgia on Thursday night.
South Carolina faces No. 11 Mississippi State on Thursday night.
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