Thursday, February 17, 2005

Lady Vols shoot for 31st straight win over Gamecocks

South Carolina (6-18) vs. (6) Tennessee (19-4)
Game Info: 7:00 pm EST Thu Feb 17, 2005

No Southeastern Conference team has won at Tennessee in nearly a decade.

South Carolina has never won there, and has been unable to beat any SEC opponent this season.

Still, the sixth-ranked Lady Vols (19-4, 9-1) aren't taking the struggling Gamecocks (6-18, 0-10) for granted entering Thursday's matchup at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Winners of 59 straight SEC home games and 30 in a row overall against the Gamecocks, the Lady Vols face a South Carolina squad that has lost 16 consecutive conference games dating to a 77-51 win over Alabama on Feb. 12, 2004.

The Gamecocks have also dropped eight in a row overall -- one shy of setting a new school record.

``Anytime a team is on a mission for a win, you know you have to be ready to play,'' Tennessee coach Pat Summitt insisted.

Tennessee is 143-9 all-time in SEC home games, and only four teams -- Auburn (2), Kentucky (2), Mississippi (2) and Georgia (3) -- have won in Knoxville. Georgia was the last team to do it, posting a 94-93 overtime victory on Dec. 8, 1996.

After having their 42-game SEC regular-season win streak snapped in a 68-58 setback at No. 1 LSU on Feb. 10, the Lady Vols bounced back Sunday with a 72-63 home win over No. 22 Vanderbilt.

Shyra Ely had 18 points and seven rebounds, and juniors Tye'sha Fluker and Shanna Zolman added 14 apiece for Tennessee, which shot 50 percent (27-for-54) and held a 36-27 rebounding advantage over the Commodores, the SEC's top scoring and rebounding team.

``Our team needs to play with more consistency,'' said Summitt, whose team is shooting just 40 percent on the season. ``We need to see a different level of play.

``If we want to be a team that's alive and well and advancing in March, we've got a lot of room for improvement. We've got time now, but time is running out.''

Summitt, who is eight victories shy of Dean Smith (879) as the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, has lost just once to South Carolina, a 56-52 road defeat on Jan. 23, 1980.

Her Lady Vols are 34-2 all-time against the Gamecocks, including a 68-53 road win on Jan. 27 in which the Gamecocks shot a season-high 50 percent from 3-point range (9-of-18). South Carolina is last in the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage (25.6), and averages a league-low 58.9 points per game.

``We were not ready to play at their place when we went down there for the first meeting, so hopefully we will be better,'' Summitt said.

The Gamecocks, who have lost 15 straight to ranked opponents since an 83-59 triumph over then-No. 13 Arkansas on Feb. 16, 2003, are playing their third straight game against a Top 25 team. They lost 67-51 at No. 16 Georgia on Feb. 10 before a 66-36 home defeat to top-ranked LSU on Sunday.

Sophomore Stacy Booker scored a team-high 15 points for the Gamecocks. Sophomore Lauren Simms, the lone South Carolina averaging double figures with 12 points per game, managed just four.

``This stretch to have to go to Georgia, play LSU here and then go to Tennessee is one of the toughest stretches that I think any team in any sport could play.'' said South Carolina coach Susan Walvius, who doesn't have a single senior on her roster.

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