7:00 PM ET, January 4, 2006
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Before top-ranked Tennessee took on South Carolina, coach Pat Summitt heard something from her group that made her bristle."Some people, it wasn't the players, were talking about the Connecticut game," Summitt said of the Lady Vols' Saturday opponent. "I said, 'I don't want to hear a word about that game.'"Summitt knows better than anyone that TV showdowns are nice, Southeastern Conference titles are better. And the Lady Vols took their first step toward another title with their 32nd straight victory over South Carolina, 66-51 on Wednesday night.The Lady Vols "want to win the SEC, and I said, 'If you want to do that, you've got to get No. 1 tonight,'" Summitt reminded them.She shouldn't have worried much as Tye'sha Fluker had 14 of her 18 points in the second half to lead the Lady Vols.Fluker, a senior reserve, matched her career high for the Lady Vols (14-0), who started the SEC with a victory for the 10th consecutive season.South Carolina (9-4) had come in with the league's top-field goal defense, a seven-game win streak of its own and legitimate hopes of topping Tennessee for the first time since 1980.Instead, Fluker came off the bench to give Tennessee a winning lift as young star Candace Parker struggled to put up points and frontline starter Nicky Anosike was in foul trouble throughout.The Lady Vols led just 25-24 a minute into the second half when Fluker got going with her own 9-0 run. She had back-to-back baskets to extend the lead to 29-24 before making a three-point play and putting back Parker's miss."It was definitely fun," Fluker said. "I'm a little happy and excited to know that my teammates have confidence in me to keep giving me the ball."The Gamecocks seemed to lose steam after Fluker's charge. By the time Shanna Zolman hit her second straight 3-pointer, Tennessee was up 42-31 with 13:18 left.Fluker's basket midway through the half increased the lead to 52-36.Fluker hit 8-of-11 shots to tie her career-best game, which she set against Auburn last year and matched in Tennessee's NCAA Tournament game against Purdue last March. She also added six rebounds and three steals."She was scoring at will," Zolman said. "We saw her gaining confidence every single play."A question coming in was whether Parker would dunk, as former Lady Vols star Michelle Snow did in Columbia four years ago. However, Parker had enough trouble getting any shots to go at all, finishing 4-for-10 for 10 points and nine rebounds.Lauren Simms led South Carolina with 16 points.South Carolina coach Susan Walvius says while she was displeased with her team's defense and rebounding in the second half -- the Gamecocks allowed Tennessee to shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor after the break -- there are many things her players can take from this."The potential is there," said Walvius, who has won only three SEC games the past two years. "We're seeing that. I think we can build on that."Tennessee didn't look like the country's best team early on. The Lady Vols had eight turnovers in the first nine minutes and the Gamecocks, after Lakesha Tolliver's consecutive baskets, led 17-9.But Tennessee found itself and closed the half with a 16-4 run to lead 25-21 at the break.Sidney Spencer had two 3-pointers and the Lady Vols turned up their defense -- South Carolina was just 2-of-13 shooting and had five turnovers during Tennessee's charge.Fluker said the upperclassmen reflected their coach's attitude coming in, concentrating on the Gamecocks above anything else."We all pretty much understood that we had to get it done," she said. "This was as important as Connecticut."
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Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||25-52 (.481)||19-51 (.373)|
|3P Made-Attempted||5-14 (.357)||4-16 (.250)|
|FT Made-Attempted||11-17 (.647)||10-14 (.714)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||15 (0/0)||19 (0/0)|