USC Tops Auburn 57-48, Advances to SEC Tournament Semifinals
By: USC SID
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (USC SID) — No. 3/2 South Carolina turned an outstanding defensive effort in the second quarter into a 57-48 win over Auburn in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals Friday afternoon at Veterans Memorial Arena. The top-seeded Gamecocks (29-1, 16-0 SEC) got 14 points and 12 rebounds from junior center Alaina Coates, who also moved into second place in program history in career blocks with two against the Tigers. South Carolina allowed Auburn just five points in the second quarter and held its fourth-straight opponent under 50 points.
After a tight first quarter, the Gamecock defense sparked the offense, and that energy carried back over to the defense, which yielded just a tough 3-pointer through the first 9:54 of the second quarter. Trailing by two at the end of the first period, the Tigers turned it over on their first two possessions of the second. While the South Carolina offense was sluggish to respond to the early defensive effort, the Gamecocks answered a end-of-the-shot-clock desperation 3-pointer from Auburn’s Janiah McKay with a 13-0 run over a five-minute span that established a 32-16 halftime lead.
Coates did a bulk of the work during the surge, scoring six of the 13 points while Khadijah Sessions hit a free throw, Bianca Cuevas finished a layup off an A’ja Wilson steal, and Tina Roy capped the run with a 3-pointer from the left sideline.
In the second half, South Carolina pounded the ball inside early with Coates scoring the six of the team’s 11 points in the period. Auburn’s Brandy Montgomery got hot in the fourth quarter as the Gamecocks struggled again with turnovers, but Wilson netted six of her eight points in the final 10 minutes to hold off the Tigers.
While this was the first game this season in which neither Tiffany Mitchell nor Wilson scored in double figures, the duo did factor into the outcome. The pair tied with Cuevas for team-high honors with three assists each, and Wilson went on to block three shots and pick up two steals to back up her SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Cuevas added four steals to her 27 minutes of relief for an ailing Sessions, who was battling a stomach bug, and Coates picked up three steals.
Head Coach Dawn Staley
On the team’s defensive effort
“From a defensive standpoint, I like what we’re doing. It’s been a stable force over the past couple of games in which it’s been hard for our offense to get going.”
South Carolina’s defense allowed Auburn just five points on 2-of-14 (.143) field goal shooting, the last two points came on a basket in the final six seconds of the period.
The Gamecocks shot 22-of-29 from the free throw line, including 8-of-9 in the fourth quarter as Auburn made one final run.
- South Carolina finished the game with just one Gamecock in double figures for the first time all season.
- Junior center Alaina Coates blocked two shots in the game, which moved her into second place in program history with 165 career blocked shots, passing 2015 alumnus Elem Ibiam. Coates is now 12 away from the career record held by Lakesha Tolliver (2004-07).
- Auburn’s five points in the second quarter mark the fifth time the Gamecock defense has held an opponent to five or fewer points in a quarter this season, including the third time in the last five games – vs. Georgia (2nd quarter, Feb. 18) and at Ole Miss (2nd quarter, Feb. 25). All five have come in the first half, including four second quarters.
- The Gamecock defense held an opponent under 50 points for the fourth-straight game and the ninth time this season.
South Carolina advances to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the third-straight season and will play the winner of the quarterfinal game between fourth-seeded Florida and the No. 5 seed Kentucky.