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Nared leads No. 6 Tennessee to 86-70 win over 9th-ranked SC

January 14, 2018 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The first loss of the season, a fogged-in airport at home on the return from Texas A&M and a long bus ride back to campus — all of the adversity from Thursday night weighed on Tennessee coach Holly Warlick.

“How are we going to handle it?” she thought.

The Lady Vols handled it very well.

Jaime Nared had 19 points, Evina Westbrook scored all her 16 points in the second half and Mercedes Russell added 16 points and 12 rebounds to lift No. 6 Tennessee to an 86-70 win Sunday over No. 9 South Carolina, which played without injured All-American A’ja Wilson.


Tennessee (16-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) rallied from a late deficit to lead Texas A&M on Thursday night before a series of mistakes by Westbrook in overtime — two turnovers and fouling a three-point shooter — led to the 79-76 defeat. The journey home became even longer when the Knoxville airport was fogged in and the team’s flight was rerouted to Nashville.

But Warlick saw two solid practices in preparation for the defending national champs and was confident her team would bounce back. She didn’t have to worry about talented freshman Westbrook, either, who went 6 for 8 in the third and fourth quarters as Tennessee built an 18-point lead, then held on after the Gamecocks cut it to four midway through the final period.

“All my teammates, every single one, had my back,” Westbrook said. “I had to learn from it, move on and on to the next one.”

Russell, the 6-foot-6 senior starter, said she and Nared let their young teammate know that everyone makes mistakes and that Westbrook needed to shake it off and get ready for South Carolina. “You can’t get it back so forget about it,” Russell said. “Do the best that you can moving forward.”

South Carolina (14-3, 3-2) might apply the same lesson. It has lost two of its past three games and had not been beaten so badly at home in the SEC since Tennessee did it (73-53) on Jan. 3, 2013, in Warlick’s first league contest as head coach.

“This is how we used to beat up on people in this league the last four years,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said with a grin. “It doesn’t feel so good on the receiving end.”

Sophomore Tyasha Harris had a career-best 28 points for the Gamecocks.

Wilson injured her ankle in the final minute of South Carolina’s win over Auburn on Thursday night. She spent the past few days receiving treatment in the hopes of playing but came out to the court during pregame with a pink cast and a scooter to keep her right leg elevated. There is no timetable for Wilson’s return.


Staley said Wilson remains day to day. She will get the cast off Monday and have an MRI.

Also potentially sidelined is Wilson’s replacement Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan, whose left knee appeared to buckle in the final quarter when she drove the lane. The 6-2 sophomore was helped off the court, her left leg held in air. Staley said the prognosis is better than it looked. Herbert-Harrigan will also have an MRI.


Tennessee: The Lady Vols have the look of an SEC contender. Russell gives them a finisher down low and Nared can play outside or near the basket, while Davis Westbrook and Hayes push the pace and defend hard on the perimeter. That’s what happened against the Gamecocks, who were caught at times searching how to play without Wilson.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks are a different team without Wilson. That was on display last week when Missouri forced her into fouling out, and was it proven again when she could not play against Tennessee because of her ankle sprain. South Carolina must discover other options, even once Wilson returns, if it hopes to win a fifth straight SEC regular-season title.


Bill Laimbeer, a staple of the Detroit Piston’s “Bad Boys” championship teams and an executive and head coach of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, was at the Colonial Life Arena, possibly to watch Wilson, a potential No. 1 overall pick, along with other Lady Vols players.


South Carolina has been accustomed to dominating underneath the past few seasons, with Wilson and Alaina Coates controlling the boards. In this one, Tennessee outrebounded the Gamecocks 41-28 and held the edge in points in the paint, 44-36.


Tennessee plays its third straight ranked opponent when it visits No. 2 Notre Dame on Thursday night.

South Carolina starts a two-game road swing at Vanderbilt on Thursday night.