No. 5 Tennessee 71, South Carolina 56

Shekinna Stricklen got a few pointers from former Tennessee star

Chamique Holdsclaw after the Lady Vols’ latest victory over South

Carolina.

And Stricklen knows that despite 18 points and a career-best 16

rebounds in the 71-56 win, coach Pat Summitt will have plenty to

tell the junior forward, too.

”One thing she’s really going to be on me is missing easy

layups,” Stricklen said with a grin. ”I know I’m going to be in

the gym doing more layups.”

Meighan Simmons had 16 points, all in the second half, and

Kelley Cain added 11 points and 11 rebounds as the Lady Vols (18-2,

6-0 Southeastern Conference) held off a late charge by South

Carolina (10-9, 2-4) for their 39th straight win over the

Gamecocks.

The Gamecocks cut a 57-45 lead to 5 points in the final five

minutes, but Tennessee closed with a 14-4 run to continue South

Carolina’s run of futility in the series.

”They were just pushing tempo and running the ball right up our

backs,” Summitt said. ”With that being said, I thought we

adjusted, but it took us a while to adjust.”

Simmons, the freshman guard Summitt calls the fastest she’s

coached, began Tennessee’s last push when she beat the defense down

court into the lane, got fouled and made the free throws.

South Carolina couldn’t get any closer.

”I thrive for those situations,” said Simmons, who is

nicknamed ”Speedy.”

Stricklen posted her sixth double-double of the season and third

in four games. The 6-foot-2 junior, however, was only 7 of 18 from

the field against most smaller defenders.

Holdsclaw watched from behind the bench and, later, encouraged

Stricklen to play with more assertiveness, to finish shots when

matched against shorter defenders. Stricklen listened. ”She’s my

role model,” the junior said.

The Lady Vols get a chance at 40 in a row when the series

resumes in Knoxville, Tenn., on Feb. 17.

Ieasia Walker had 24 points to lead South Carolina. She also had

eight rebounds before fouling out in the final minutes.

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley knew her team couldn’t match

Tennessee’s height – Tennessee starts four players 6-1 or taller;

the Gamecocks don’t have anyone bigger than 6-1 – so South Carolina

attacked with speed. ”We really pushed the ball before all that

height came into play,” she said.

Simmons missed her two shots in the first half as Tennessee

struggled to get clear of the Gamecocks. When she finally got

going, however, so did the Lady Vols. Simmons scored 10 points as

Tennessee opened a 54-42 lead midway through the second half.

Tennessee has had its way in the series for more than three

decades since last losing to South Carolina nearly 31 years ago.

But the Lady Vols got a huge wake up call here a year ago when the

Gamecocks scored the game’s first 13 points and led for 35 minutes

before Tennessee rallied to a 60-55 victory.

The margin was the closest in the series since 1990 and seemed

to signal a new rival for the powerhouse Tennessee.

The offseason, though, was not kind to the Gamecocks. The

6-foot-5 SEC newcomer of the year, Kelsey Bone, transferred to

Texas A&M. More recently, the Gamecocks lost another highly

regarded prospect in freshman Kayla Brewer to Texas.

Still, South Carolina threw all it could at the Lady Vols.

The Gamecocks led 12-4 as La’Keisha Sutton continually beat

Tennessee’s players downcourt for easy buckets.

Tied 26-all with three minutes in the half, Tennessee closed

with 7-0 run. Stricklen and Alicia Manning had close-in baskets and

Angie Bjorklund hit a 3-pointer as time ran out for a 33-26

lead.