COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley fretted at how the freshmen on her USC womens basketball team would handle the start of SEC play on Thursday night against Tennessee.
Not only was the opponent of the marquee variety, the 12th-ranked Volunteers entered the game big in size, quick afoot and more than capable of besting the Gamecocks at their own game.
Turns out, no Gamecock was fully prepared for the onslaught. As a result, there would be no victory, no moral victory and no protecting the home court.
The Volunteers blew open a close game with a punishing 28-2 run in the second half to blast USC 73-53 at Colonial Life Arena.
That run turned a 40-39 USC lead into a 67-42 deficit. The Vols (10-3) scored in every way imaginable during the spree and the Gamecocks were powerless to do anything about it, appearing a step slower with passes a touch.
Asia Doziers 3-pointer at 4:25 in the second half put an end to the run, but the damage was done as USC (12-2) was sent to its second loss of the season, both to ranked teams, both at home.
The first half promised a much different kind of game. Twice, Tennessee appeared ready to go on a tear only to be reeled in by the Gamecocks. With foul trouble sending sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch to the bench, Ashley Brune answered the bell with 10 first-half points.
Bruners pair of free throws sent both teams to halftime with Tennessee nursing a 32- 31 lead.
USC then jumped out to a 35-32 lead on two quick buckets by Welch and Tiffany Mitchell, forcing Tennessee to call a timeout.
The two teams traded the lead four times before a media timeout. When action resumed, only the Volunteers reappeared as the rout was on.
Meighan Simmons was the primary instigator, scoring eight of the first 12 points of Tennessees decisive run. After that, everyone got in the act and the game quietly passed into the Gamecocks loss column.
Taber Spani and Isabelle Harrison each scored 18 points for Tennessee. Mitchell, a freshman, led USC with 14 points.
The Gamecocks will head to Mississippi State on Sunday before returning home for Vanderbilt on Jan. 17.