KNOXVILLE — Even in a basketball game that started off as poorly as it did for Tennessee's women, the Lady Volunteers found themselves in a spot where they could have really put fear into South Carolina.
But in a 15-second span at the end of the third quarter Sunday, Tennessee compounded one negative with another, and its hopes of securing a big win went away.
Tennessee lost 82-67 to the 13th-ranked Gamecocks in front of 9,448 at Thompson-Boling Arena, the Lady Vols' second straight double-digit defeat since winning 62-60 at Missouri for one of their biggest Southeastern Conference wins this season.
It leaves Tennessee 17-10 overall and 6-8 in the league with two regular-season games remaining, against Vanderbilt on Thursday and at Ole Miss next Sunday. Those opponents are a combined 4-24 in SEC play this season.
Against South Carolina (20-7, 12-2), the Lady Vols had clawed back from a 20-point deficit to trail 58-51 toward the end of the third quarter. After rebounding a missed shot by Bianca Cuevas-Moore, the Lady Vols' Evina Westbrook drove down the floor and forced a contested shot that clanked off the side iron, and the Gamecocks' Tyasha Harris grabbed the rebound and scored with five seconds to play in the period, giving South Carolina a nine-point edge going into the fourth.
"That was huge," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "You've got to make that play, it's a momentum deal. We just couldn't get over the hump. I loved our fight in the second through the fourth quarters, but we've got to take what we want to do and put it on the court.
"We battled all day because of the first quarter, and it was hard because South Carolina was not relinquishing how they were playing."
The Lady Vols closed to within seven one final time, but the Gamecocks responded with a Doniyah Cliney 3-pointer with 6:34 to play and their lead never went below double figures after that.
Rennia Davis paced the Lady Vols with 15 points and nine rebounds. Zaay Green scored 12 points and matched Davis for the team lead in rebounds, while Cheridene Green had 11 points and Westbrook added 10.
South Carolina was led by 28 points from Cuevas-Moore, who had 18 in the first half and finished with four steals. Cliney had 16 points, while Alexis Jennings scored 13 of her 15 in the second half. Harris had 11 points, 14 assists and four steals.
The Lady Vols started horribly and trailed 27-11 after a first quarter in which they shot 5-for-13, turned the ball over seven times — leading to nine Gamecocks points — and allowed the visitors to get out in transition, with 12 of South Carolina's points in the period coming via fast break.
The Gamecocks' lead stretched to 20 on three occasions in the second quarter before the Lady Vols, using a smaller lineup, were able to stop the tide and get out in transition themselves, cutting their deficit to 14 before South Carolina took a 43-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.
"We definitely dug ourselves a hole, especially defensively," Westbrook said. "They just came out and really took it to us. Unfortunately, we knew that they were going to come out and get the ball out quick; we just didn't pick up the ball. That first quarter was a difference maker for us."
Added Warlick: "They were more physical than us, and we just didn't handle it. South Carolina is a great basketball team, and you can't spot them 27-11 — it becomes an uphill climb.
"We've got to get better on the defensive end."