Izzy Harrison leads Lady Vols to win

Izzy Harrison vs. South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. - The Lady Vols opened the SEC slate with a win over South Carolina on the road. Go inside for game analysis and video coverage.

Chamique Holdsclaw greeted Isabelle Harrison right before she walked into the post-game press conference.

The former Lady Vol legend, who sat behind Tennessee's bench Thursday night, brought a big smile to the face of the sophomore forward with congratulations about her performance.

It was well earned. Harrison tied a career high with 18 points and set career highs in blocks with seven and rebounds with 14.

She also logged 35 minutes and smiled and shook her head when she was asked if she could have done that a year ago.

Tennessee (10-3, 1-0) needed every minute from Harrison in the 73-53 win over South Carolina (12-2, 0-1), as Cierra Burdick was sidelined with a broken hand and Bashaara Graves was ill, though the freshman still managed 34 minutes and made a highlight-reel play with a defensive board, coast-to-coast dribbling and the left-handed finish around her defender in the first half.

The Lady Vols led by just one at the break, 32-31, and Holly Warlick needed a quick timeout at the 18:43 mark when Tennessee didn't get back on defense and the Gamecocks took a 35-32 lead.

Tennessee tied it on a long three from Ariel Massengale and after trading baskets with the Gamecocks went ahead 41-40 on a Meighan Simmons drive to the basket at the 16:01 mark. The Lady Vols never trailed again.

In fact they went on a flurry of scoring, led by Simmons getting to the rim, Taber Spani scoring in the paint and Harrison getting a stick-back.

South Carolina, meanwhile, missed 10 straight field goals from the 15:52 mark to the 11:53 mark. By that time, Tennessee led 51-40 on another Simmons' foray to the rim.

Ashley Bruner hit a jumper at the 11:11 mark to stop the Gamecocks' bleeding but then South Carolina missed its next 11 shots before Asia Dozier hit a trey at the 4:30 mark. By then the Lady Vols led 67-45, and Warlick was close to emptying her very short bench.

"If you look at the score in the first half, it's a ballgame," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "But in the second half, you can't allow a team like Tennessee that likes to play in transition easy buckets, and that's what we did.

"Our inability to score - they capitalized on, and in a big way. That stretch made it really hard for us to get back in the game."

Tennessee shifted the game two ways - with its matchup zone that stymied the Gamecocks' offense and with its offense, which saw the guards penetrate into the paint. South Carolina extended its defense and doubled the posts, so the Lady Vols just started going around the Gamecocks.

That also opened up the outside and Spani took advantage by draining two threes, including a deep one near the top of the floor.

"They didn't just two us, they threed us," Staley said.

Tennessee balanced its scoring with 18 points each from Spani and Harrison, 13 from Ariel Massengale and 10 from Simmons.

Massengale had eight in the first half, and each one was needed as she and Harrison were carrying the offense. Massengale doesn't always look to score, but she got the ball to the paint, got the team in the right rhythm and earned considerable praise from Warlick after the game.

After the Christmas break Warlick had told Massengale that she couldn't rely on her. After the South Carolina game, Warlick gave Massengale well-deserved praise and said it was one of the best games of her career.

"She was a great leader for us and got everybody where they needed to go," Warlick said.

Massengale managed the game well throughout a close first half - she scored and got the ball to Harrison, including a modified pick and roll that that they had worked on in practice this week. Besides her 13 points on 4-8 shooting, Massengale had three assists and just one turnover in 31 minutes of play against an attacking South Carolina defense. She rarely didn't have a defender sticking to her as she headed anywhere on the court.

But South Carolina couldn't get its defense set enough in the second half as the Lady Vols were happy to take the defensive boards and push the tempo.

"When you play a team like Tennessee you have to find a way to score and slow them down," Staley said.

South Carolina, which got 69 field goals attempts to 56 for the Lady Vols, couldn't, and the Gamecocks shot 21.1 percent in the second half and 29.0 percent for the game.

South Carolina also went deep into the shot clock, and the Lady Vols, which opened the game in man, stuck with its matchup zone in the second half. Tennessee stayed disciplined with its assignments and figured out how to rebound out of its zone, and the result was a Gamecocks team that got increasingly deflated by the misses on one end and the makes on the other.

"I told our players it was a tale of two halves," Warlick said. "I was really concerned about coming in here and playing South Carolina, hard-nosed, athletic, very well coached team and the first half was just my expectations of the physical-ness of both teams.

"I was obviously concerned at halftime with their offensive rebounding and our zero. We had a good talk at half. I said we could bottle that half but we could not repeat it. I am just proud of our effort against a good South Carolina team."

Tennessee trailed on the boards 21-9 at halftime and had zero on the offensive end. Pat Summitt, who was at the team's practice before they left Knoxville, didn't make the trip to Columbia. Perhaps that was best. She might have been tempted to peel paint at halftime with a speech.

Instead, Warlick addressed it - Harrison said it was a point of emphasis at halftime - and the Lady Vols out-rebounded the Gamecocks 30-19 in the second half, with 11 offensive boards. South Carolina just nipped them overall on the glass, 40-39.

The storyline of the game was Harrison, who now has consumed pancakes before three consecutive games. She might want to make that a staple menu item. Her 18 points tied a career high set in the last game against Rutgers. The 14 boards bested the 12 she grabbed against Rice this season. The seven blocks surpassed the six swats against Middle Tennessee in November.

One of her blocks was textbook defense. She stood her ground with her arms up, didn't bite on multiple fakes and then just took the ball out of the shooter's hands.

Harrison's presence rattled the Gamecocks, and they started altering their shots once they got to the paint.

"Izzy was outstanding," Warlick said. "We rely on her to obviously score, but her rebounding, her defensive presence, her ability to block shots, she gets that from her volleyball side of growing up.

"I thought she stepped up big. She played huge, huge rebounding, huge blocked shots. She took the shots Izzy was capable of making. The shots I think she missed were shots stepping away from the basket. She can hit those, but that's not what we wanted tonight."

Harrison did bank one in from the elbow - the corner of the free throw line - and Warlick did smile about that one.

But Warlick was adamant that her team get to the paint by dribble or passing. During an early second-half timeout she met Simmons at half court, put an arm around her and talked on the way back to the huddle.

Simmons was fouled on a drive on the next possession, made the free throws and then converted two straight layups for six of her 10 points.

The second layup came after Kamiko Williams partially blocked a shot, Harrison got the rebound and Simmons broke into the open floor. That pushed the lead to 51-40, and Tennessee kept it in double digits the rest of the way.

"We talked about before the game getting inside shots, in the paint shots, and that was from our posts and from our guards," Warlick said. "I was concerned that they would force us to quick shoot the basketball and just jack up the basketball.

"My goal was for the guards to get shots in the paint. … I think offensively we stuck to our game plan. We shot the ball well, we shot 54 percent the first half and 47 the second. We just didn't take ill-advised shots and that was my big concern coming in."

It was a legitimate concern because South Carolina's defense is stingy - 10 of its opponents didn't reach 50 points - and getting in a hole against the Gamecocks, which uses a lot of the shot clock on a possession if not scoring in transition, would be problematic, especially on the road.

Instead the Lady Vols shot 54.5 percent in the first half, 47.1 percent in the second and 50.0 percent for the game. They connected at 54.5 percent from long range, led by 4-5 marksmanship from Spani, and made 11 of 14 free throws.

Turnovers were limited to 12 with six coming in the hands of the posts, who were swarmed by defenders, thus the change in strategy to spread the floor and get to the paint by penetration. Tennessee had 10 assists with Massengale and Simmons combining for seven of them.

Warlick relied heavily on her starters with a roster of just nine available players. Spani, who has battled back issues, went 36 minutes, grabbed six boards and had two blocks. Graves, who was ill, logged 34 minutes and managed nine points and eight boards. Simmons and Harrison played 35 minutes each and Massengale, who took a hard tumble in the second half, checked in at 31. Williams provided the most bench relief with 16 minutes, with 13 of those coming in the second half.

It was an important win for Warlick, as it was her first in the SEC in her first season after succeeding Summitt on the bench. It was also an important win for Tennessee as the Lady Vols drew a tough opener with South Carolina on the road and now go home to host Georgia.

"I understand who I am following and I keep it in perspective," Warlick said. "I am just trying to continue something that a legendary coach started.

"Tonight was a great win for us. The SEC in women's basketball, night in and night out, it's tough. … It's a good moment for Tennessee."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Game highlights from utsportstv

Ariel Massengale, Taber Spani, Izzy Harrison

Holly Warlick

Dawn Staley, Aleighsa Welch, Ieasia Walker

Video links are available by CLICKING HERE

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