Gamecocks Down MSU, Win Second-Straight SEC Championship
By: USC SID
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (USC SID) — No. 3/2 South Carolina continued its defensive dominance and mixed in 55.6 percent shooting in the second half to claim its second-straight SEC Tournament championship with a 66-52 win over No. 16/16 Mississippi State. The momentum shifted in the second quarter, during with South Carolina used an 11-0 run over the final 4:43 to establish an 11-point halftime lead, and the Gamecocks never looked back. SEC Tournament MVP Tiffany Mitchell and All-Tournament choice A’ja Wilson tied for team-high honors with 19 points each with Wilson completing a double-double behind 13 rebounds.
It was tight early with the scored tied at 10-10 on Mitchell’s free throws with 2:35 left in the period. The Bulldogs went ahead on a bacnked-in 3-pointer from Victoria Vivians, but the Gamecock defense ramped up the pressure as Mitchell picked up a steal the led to a Khadijah Sessions transition layup with 1:47 to go in the quarter. The move launched a 10-2 run to end the quarter as Bianca Cuevas picked the picked of Morgan William on the next possession and beat her to the rim for a 14-10 South Carolina lead. Wilson defended Breanna Richardson into traveling, and Mitchell tossed in a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock to keep things going. Chinwe Okori snapped the streak with a move on the left block, but Sessions closed the quarter with a 3 from the top of the key, putting the Gamecocks up 20-15 after the first period.
The second quarter got off to a slow start for South Carolina, but again they ended with a flourish. Scoreless for nearly four minutes to start the period, the Gamecocks held Mississippi State to just four points in that stretch and clung to a 20-19 lead with just over six minutes before halftime. Alaina Coates helped force a turnover that led to Mitchell’s runner in the lane that final took the lid of the basket for the Gamecocks. William hit a free throw line jumper to pull the Bulldogs within one, but they would be their last points of the period as the Gamecocks rolled off an 11-0 run over the final 4:43 with Coates putting back an offensive rebound, Sessions add three points on a free throw and a driving layup, Wilson sticking with a series of offensive rebounds that eventually yielded a short jumper then adding two free throws on the next possession and Mitchell hitting a transition layup off her long defensive rebound to send the Gamecocks to the locker room with a 33-21 lead.
In the second half, South Carolina turned back every Mississippi State run as leading scorer Victoria Vivians tried to shoot her team back into the contest. She accounted for 13 of her team’s 18 points in the period, but the Gamecocks had the answer each time, not allowing the Bulldogs to get within double digits in the final 17 minutes of the game. The pushback came with contributions from all sources with Asia Dozier making big defensive plays and adding a baseline floater to answer a pair of free throws from Vivians. Mitchell drove the name and dished to Jatarie White, how hit the open bucket then corralled a defensive rebound and found Wilson on high-low action on the ensuing possession. When Dominique Dillingham hit a pull-up jumper with 7:22 to play in the game, Dozier, Mitchell and Wilson combined for a 6-0 run that would seal the victory.
Three Gamecocks finished in double figures with Mitchell and Wilson leading the way with 19 points each, and Sessions posting 11 on 4-of-6 shooting. Wilson completed her 12th double-double of the season with 13 rebounds.
Head Coach Dawn Staley
On what it means to cap a perfect regular season with an SEC Tournament title
“It means a great deal. It means that we put our names in the history book in this tradition-rich conference. It means our players have put in the work to be amongst one of the top teams in this conference. It also means they’re upholding what the players that have come before them did – both those who were 10-18 to those who won the regular-season and tournament championships last year. They represent all of those players from our program in the highest form.”
After going scoreless for nearly four minutes to open the second quarter, the Gamecocks scored 11 straight points in the final 4:43 of the period to take a 33-21 lead into halftime as South Carolina’s frontcourt controlled the glass and the guards harassed Mississippi State into three turnovers in the stretch.
After she scored 13 of her 26 points in the third quarter, Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians was held scoreless in the fourth as the Gamecocks shot 55.6 percent from the field to eliminate any comeback from the Bulldogs.
- South Carolina has not lost a game to an SEC team since March 1, 2015, claiming 22 straight wins in that time, beginning with the 2015 SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
- South Carolina becomes the third program in league history to win both the regular-season and tournament titles in back-to-back seasons, joining Tennessee (1999-200 and 2010-11) and Georgia (1983-84).
- The Gamecocks join the 2011 Tennessee team as the only in league history to go 16-0 in the regular season and win the SEC Tournament.
- Senior guard Tiffany Mitchell was named SEC Tournament MVP after scoring 15.7 points per game on 40.5 percent shooting while tying for the team lead with 10 assists and swiping five steals over the three wins.
- Sophomore forward A’ja Wilson joined her on the All-Tournament team as she averaged 15.0 points and 9.0 rebounds at the event, swatting way nine shots
- South Carolina’s defense held an opponent below 60 points for the sixth time in the last seven games and the 20th time this season.
- Junior center Alaina Coates averaged a double-double in the tournament with 10.3 points and 10.0 rebounds behind a pair of double-doubles in the three games.
South Carolina will await the NCAA Tournament bracket announcement on Mon., March 14, to find out who and where it will continue its season.