COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Coach Pat Summitt knew three teams ranked ahead of Tennessee had lost already this week. She made sure her fifth-ranked Lady Vols didn't add to that group Thursday night.
"I asked the team if they knew that last night obviously, Texas lost to Baylor, Texas Tech lost to Iowa State, and the night before that Connecticut lost at Notre Dame," Summitt said. "I said, 'We don't want to be the fourth to join this company."
Thanks to Shyra Ely and some strong defense, the Lady Vols didn't, winning their 28th straight over South Carolina, 86-58.
Ely scored 15 of her 16 points in the first half, then sat most of the second as Tennessee (13-1, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) notched its 23rd consecutive regular-season victory in the league.
Ely says she and her teammates remembered Summitt's pre-game words and made sure to put the game away as soon as they could.
"I think we did a good job of focusing and not playing down to our competition and not taking it lightly," she said.
Especially in the first half. Ely had nine points in a 30-9 run by Tennessee to finish the first half and turn a 19-19 tie into a blowout.
The Gamecocks (8-6, 0-2) sold out the old Carolina Coliseum two years ago when this contest was a battle of top-10 teams. They tried to pump up the crowd at the new Colonial Center with $1 tickets, but the team couldn't stand up to the more polished and talented Lady Vols. South Carolina is now 1-30 all time against Tennessee.
"Fortunately tonight, I think we came out with respect for South Carolina and made at times a solid club look not as good as I know they are," Summitt said.
Ely was a big reason why this time. She rolled inside for her team's first basket, and Tennessee led 9-0 before South Carolina got off a shot. When the Gamecocks closed to 11-10, Ely hit back-to-back baskets and the Lady Vols soon were up 19-10.
Again, South Carolina got back in it when Sarah Burgess' foul shots tied things at 19-19 with 10:34 to go in the half. And again, Ely led Tennessee back out front.
Her driving basket began the Lady Vols' big run. Shanna Zolman followed with a 3-pointer and Ely added a foul shot. Ely hit three straight shots to put Tennessee up 42-25.
South Carolina never got closer than that the rest of the way in losing its fifth straight game.
About anything Ely and her teammates threw up went in. They went 12 for 17 during their big run.
"When you throw the ball to the orange team and jog back defensively, it's pretty easy for anybody to score on you," South Carolina coach Susan Walvius said.
Summitt didn't find much wrong with the runaway half, calling it the team's best of the season.
"It's really a good thing to see them take what we've been working on and apply it to a game," she said.
Ely came out to start the second half with her team up 49-28 and keyed another strong start as the Lady Vols made six of their first nine shots. Ely also showed she knows when not to shoot.
She broke downcourt after a South Carolina turnover and Zolman rushed a pass into the lane that Ely had trouble handling. Still, she collected the ball and kicked it right back to Zolman, who knocked down a jump shot from the left baseline.
Ely, who also had nine rebounds, didn't play much after Tennessee took a 63-35 lead on Loree Moore's short jumper with 14:39 left.
Ely wasn't crazy about her time on the bench, but knew it would help the Lady Vols down the line.
"When you try and get better, you don't really want to let up," Ely said.
Shanna Zolman finished with 15 points and had three 3-pointers for Tennessee.
South Carolina came in as the SEC's second highest-scoring offense at more than 76 points a game. But the Gamecocks shot less than 40 percent (21 of 53). Cristina Ciocan, the team's top scorer this season at nearly 16 points a game, was held to 8 on 4-of-15 shooting.
Freshman Lauren Simms led South Carolina with a career-high 22 points.
The Gamecocks have lost four players to the WNBA draft the past two years. Six of their 11-person roster are newcomers. Walvius thinks facing Tennessee might have overwhelmed her team.
"Do I feel there was some intimidation in some of our young kids? Yes. In Lauren Simms? No," Walvius said. "We're a lot better basketball team than what we played today."