Pat Summitt is a big fan of the way Alicia Manning plays defense. The reserve forward has spent extra time shooting in the gym this season in hopes of pleasing her coach just as much with her offensive output.
Manning scored a career-high 22 points to lead No. 4 Tennessee to an 82-60 win over South Carolina on Thursday night, its 40th consecutive win in the series.
“I think she’s a player that’s really invested in her game, and there’s no substitute for getting in the gym and getting extra shots,” Summitt said. “She’s playing with a lot of confidence. She’s extended her range, which I think has really, really helped her game.”
The victory secures at least a share of the Southeastern Conference regular-season crown for the Lady Volunteers. A win over second-place Georgia on Monday would give them their 16th title and third in four seasons.
Manning scored from all over the floor, going 8 of 11 from the field, hitting three of her four attempts from 3-point range and going 3 of 4 from the foul line.
She hit a 3-pointer to cap an early 17-2 run that gave the Lady Vols a 21-7 lead with 10:07 left in the first half. After going 8:12 without hitting a field goal, South Carolina got back-to-back 3s by Markeshia Grant and a layup from Ieasia Walker to cut Tennessee’s margin to 21-5.
The Gamecocks pulled within five points a few minutes later off a three-point play by Walker, but it was the closest they would get. Another Manning 3 pushed Tennessee’s lead back into double digits with 1:32 to go before halftime, and the Lady Vols (25-2, 13-0) pulled away quickly in the second half.
“I’ve been shooting (3-pointers) a lot more in practice,” Manning said. “I was feeling a really good rhythm, so I just took it in.”
Meighan Simmons scored 17 points for the Lady Vols, Shekinna Stricklen contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds and Alyssia Brewer grabbed 10 boards.
Walker scored 16 points for South Carolina (15-11, 7-6), which hasn’t beaten Tennessee since Jan. 23, 1980. Valerie Nainima hit four 3-pointers and finished with 15 points.
“I think we passed the ball well. We had a lot of assists tonight,” Walker said. “We need to move a little bit quicker, but we had a lot of good things we can take from this game.”
Tennessee also got a win at South Carolina this season, overcoming 24 turnovers and surviving a late run by the Gamecocks en route to a 71-56 win on Jan. 20.
That loss seemed to spark the Gamecocks, who won five of their next six games, including victories over ranked foes Georgia and Kentucky during the stretch.
South Carolina did its best to keep pace with the Lady Vols in hopes of getting its third win over a ranked opponent for a second season in a row. The Gamecocks fired away from around the perimeter but hit only 34.9 percent of their shots and finished 8 of 22 from 3-point range.
Things got a little scrappy around the basket at times during the first half. South Carolina was charged with 13 fouls in the first half, leading to 11-of-17 shooting from the free throw line by Tennessee, while Stricklen got called for a technical after tangling with Ashley Bruner on a free-throw shot by teammate Glory Johnson.
The Lady Vols finished 16 of 25 from the charity stripe, outrebounded South Carolina 51-30 and turned 16 offensive boards into 19 second-chance points.
“The outrebounded us by 20 in the last game. We knew it was a difficult feat to outrebound them, but we thought that if we could cut the deficit down by half it would give us a chance to compete and maybe sneak out with a win,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said
“When you have waves of players coming in like they have, it wears you down. If you don’t have players to match up with them, you’re in for a long night,” she said.