DULUTH - The South Carolina womens basketball team had been victorious in 10 consecutive games before a loss at Tennessee in the regular season finale. Friday in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, the Gamecocks looked more than capable of starting a brand-new streak.
The top seed and Associated Press No. 5 Gamecocks lived up to their other ranking as the No. 1 shooting team in the conference, hitting 57 percent of their shots in a 67-48 win over ninth-seeded Georgia.
While its border rival from Columbia, South Carolina was showing off its shooting prowess, led by a dominant game in the paint, thanks to the 6-4 center tandem of Elem Ibiam (6 of 7 shooting, 10 of 12 points in second half) and Alaina Coates (6 of 8, 13 points), Georgia (20-11) had a miserable day from the field. The Bulldogs made only 18 field goals and the top four scorers for the Athens school - Shacobia Barbee, Khaalidah Miller, Erika Ford and Tiaria Griffin combined to make only 19 percent of their shots. It was Georgia’s worst shooting performance of the season, surpassing the 29 percent it shot against Texas A&M January 12.
“With our bigs, they have done a tremendous job all season long, being very efficient from an offensive standpoint.” said Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley, who was named the league’s coach of the year before the tournament began.”I thought it was really key, they know they’re going to get the ball, (and) I thought they just played with renewed energy coming off the Tennessee loss. It was good to pound that ball inside and allow our post players to go to work. (The South Carolina defense was) committed to making sure we chase hard off of screens and I just thought we played good basketball. A win is a win in our league.”
South Carolina (27-3) hit its first three field goal attempt shots, and held a 10-2 lead five minutes into the game. Meanwhile, Georgia went a stretch of 4:12 without a point and misfired on 13 of its first 16 field goal attempts. That allowed the top seed to build a large first-half cushion. Reserve Tina Roy assisted on a bucket by Aleighsa Welch and Roy had three baskets of her own - two 3-pointers and a put back on a miss by Asia Dozier - and the Gamecocks led 27-9 with just under six minutes until halftime.
After going another 5 1/2 minutes without a point, the Bulldogs finally got things together offensively over a two-minute stretch, thanks to Krista Donald and Merritt Hempe.
The pair combined for nine points, including Donald’s three that cut the deficit to 29-18. That spurt wasn’t nearly enough and despite finishing that two-minute period hitting 4 of 5 field goals, Georgia still hit just 8 of 33 from the field over the first 20 minutes.
“We know what kind of team Georgia is, they are incredibly streaky, so we didn’t want them to get on a roll,” Staley said.
South Carolina, which shot 54 percent from the field in the first, scored the final six points, four of which came on Dozier-to-Coates hook ups, that made it a 35-18 game at halftime.
In the second afternoon quarterfinal, No. 4 seed Kentucky outlasted fifth-seeded Florida 75-70 to set up a meeting with South Carolina in a semifinal game today at 12 pm.
Cassie Peoples hit five 3-pointers for Florida (19-12), including two in the final two minutes. Peoples last three of the day tied the game at 70-70 with a minute and a half remanning in the second half.
The Gators wouldn’t score again.
Janee Thompson’s bucket 15 seconds later gave Kentucky (23-7) the lead for good and Samarie Walker had a big offensive rebound and put back with 28 seconds to play that put the Wildcats up four.
DeNesha Stallworth was held scoreless in the opening half, but scored all of her team-high 13 points over the final 20 minutes to lead the Wildcats, which avoided a three-game sweep at the hands of Florida.
Peoples and Kayla Lewis led all scorers with 18 points for Florida, which failed to reach the semifinals for the 16th consecutive season.
Kentucky, which was swept in two regular season games by South Carolina, including an 81-58 loss in Lexington February 20, has been tournament runners-up in three of the last four seasons.