No. 12 Tennessee erased a 16-point first-half deficit and closed within three in the third quarter but couldn’t overcome No. 8 South Carolina, falling 73-62 in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.

Freshman Anastasia Hayes led Tennessee (24-7) in scoring, tying her career high of 17 points. Senior Jaime Nared posted a double-double for Tennessee with 15 points and 13 rebounds, playing her ninth 40-minute game of the season.

A’ja Wilson led South Carolina (24-6) with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Alexis Jennings also recorded a double-double for the Gamecocks, logging 19 points and 12 rebounds.

Nared struck first for Tennessee, knocking down a three to give the Lady Vols their only lead of the game at 3-2. UT got off to a slow start from the floor, shooting 1-of-8 in the opening minutes while South Carolina jumped out to a 9-3 lead by the 4:51 media timeout. Hayes came off the bench to put up six points for the Lady Vols, while South Carolina capitalized on free throws, hitting 6-of-7 to take a 16-9 lead into the second quarter.

The Gamecocks started the second quarter with a 6-0 run to extend their lead to 13 with 7:58 to play in the half. Tennessee answered by scoring four quick points to cut the lead to 22-13 less than a minute later, but South Carolina rallied back and was up by 16 at the 5:40 mark. Tennessee answered with an 8-0 run to cut the deficit to eight with 3:25 to play in the half. South Carolina would knock down a jumper, though, to send Tennessee to the locker room down 33-23.

Nared scored the first three points of the second half for Tennessee as well, hitting all three free throws after being fouled behind the arc. Tennessee then went 4-of-4 from the floor to cut the lead to 39-35 off a Meme Jackson trey with 6:20 to play in the quarter.  A’ja Wilson converted on a three-point play, however, to set off a 7-0 Gamecock run before Tennessee answered with an 8-0 run of its own, cutting the deficit to three with just over a minute in the period. South Carolina converted on a jumper to send the Lady Vols into the fourth down five at 48-43.

South Carolina came out hot at the beginning of the fourth, scoring 13 unanswered points before Nared came up with a jumper. Tennessee mounted an 8-0 run beginning with a Hayes layup at the 5:03 mark to cut the lead to 10 with 3:31 left in the game. Tennessee would trim the lead to as few as nine in the closing minutes but couldn’t close the gap any further, falling 73-62.

Next Up: Tennessee will await Selection Monday on Monday, March 12, when the seedings for the NCAA Tournament will be announced. The first round of the NCAA Tournament will begin March 16.

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Source: University of Tennessee Athletics