No. 1 USC stuffs No. 22 Tennessee

No. 1 USC stuffs No. 22 Tennessee
No. 1 USC stuffs No. 22 Tennessee (Source: The Big Spur)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (TheBigSpur) - The target is growing but so is South Carolina’s confidence level.

Twenty days after rising to No. 1 in women’s college basketball, the youthful Gamecocks haven’t cracked under pressure. Not at rival Missouri. Not in a primetime showdown against No. 9 Mississippi State. And this time, not against storied Tennessee.

USC started a three-game swing against ranked opponents Sunday by sending their 15th straight opponent home a loser.

The Gamecocks led buzzer-to-buzzer in a 69-48 decisive win over No. 22 Lady Volunteers Sunday at Colonial Life Arena. It was the first win over Tennessee in Columbia in five years.

Freshman Zia Cooke scored a game-high 20 points, including four 3-pointers. Destanni Henderson, celebrating a birthday, contributed nine of her 12 points in the third quarter.

While nine scorers found the net, the Gamecocks (21-1, 9-0) featured their gritty defense to earn a sixth straight win over ranked competition.

South Carolina forced the Lady Vols into 21 turnovers, capitalizing with 28 points.

"We had two great prep days," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "We knew they would play a little more zone than we're used to, utilizing their length. Our players didn't flinch with any of the adjustments that they made."

Eight of Tennessee's players on the active roster stand at least 6-foot-2.

"We tried to combat what gives length problems and that's speed and we have that," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "We wanted to make sure we're disruptive and not allow their height to be an advantage for them. If you can get them (running) a little bit, maybe you can turn them over or speed them up and make them play a little faster than they want to play."

USC galloped to a 21-9 lead in the first quarter and never let Tennessee (17-5, 7-2) settle into any rhythm.

"They were being aggressive defensively and not allowing easy passes," first-year Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. "We were a little spastic in the first quarter with our offense and turned it over too much to stay in the game with them."

It’s a one-two punch that South Carolina has all but mastered in 22 games while building a nice cushion in the Southeastern Conference standings. The Gamecocks currently own 1.5 game lead over the Bulldogs, who host Georgia on Monday. The Lady Vols fell to two games off the lead.

The nationally-televised victory marks the seventh victory over Top 25 competition.

South Carolina will visit No. 25 Arkansas on Thursday with tip-off set for 8:30 p.m. on SEC Network. USC defeated the Razorbacks 91-82 a month ago in Columbia. The Gamecocks will host No. 4 UConn next Monday.

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