USC Feeling Sweet: Gamecocks Heading Back to the Sweet 16
By: USC SID
COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) — Senior guard Tiffany Mitchell tallied a team-high 20 points and junior center Alaina Coates registered her second-straight double-double to lead top-seeded South Carolina to a 73-47 victory over ninth-seeded Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at Colonial Life Arena. With the win, the No. 3/2 Gamecocks (33-1) advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16 in Sioux Falls, S.D., where they will face fourth-seeded Syracuse on Friday.
The Gamecocks scored 12 of the second quarter’s first 14 points and outscored the Wildcats, 27-13, in the period on their way to a 19-point halftime lead. Sixteen of Mitchell’s 20 points came in the first half for South Carolina, which totaled 20 points off 16 turnovers by the Wildcats. Coates connected on five of her seven field goal attempts and finished the game as one of two Gamecocks with multiple blocks.
South Carolina’s defense and guard play set the tone in the opening period, as the Gamecocks forced four turnovers in the first five minutes. Baskets by Mitchell and guard Khadijah Sessions helped give South Carolina a 5-2 lead, and a three-point play by Mitchell midway through the first quarter made it 10-7. Two more free throws from the senior extended the advantage to 17-9 with 1:49 left in the period, and South Carolina headed into the second quarter leading, 18-13.
The backcourt continued to provide the scoring for South Carolina in the second quarter, and a 3-pointer by sophomore Bianca Cuevas out of the break pushed the lead back to eight at 21-13. The Gamecocks, who opened the period on a 12-2 run to make it 30-15, remained tough on the defensive end, forcing the Wildcats to miss six of their first eight shot attempts of the quarter. Mitchell’s third steal of the night led to an easy layup and put her in double figures, and her 3-pointer late in the quarter gave South Carolina its largest lead of the night at 43-24. The Charlotte, N.C., native provided the exclamation point on her productive first half with a pull-up jumper as time expired to send the Gamecocks into the locker room with a 45-26 lead. Mitchell posted first-half totals of 16 points, four steals and two assists for South Carolina, which scored 17 points off turnovers in the first two periods.
Coates and the Gamecock frontcourt paced South Carolina in the early stages of the second half and stretched the lead to over 20. The junior center, who totaled six third-quarter points, converted the Gamecocks’ first two field goals out of the half before four free throws from sophomore forward A’ja Wilson made it 53-32. Defense continued to lead to points for South Carolina, and Sessions’ steal and layup in transition helped the advantage grow to 57-35. Kansas State missed nine of its final 10 shot attempts of the third quarter, and the Gamecocks closed the period on a 7-0 run to build a 62-35 cushion.
Mitchell’s second field goal of the half gave the guard her seventh 20-point game of the season early in the fourth quarter, and the Gamecocks saw their advantage increase to 70-38 when senior Tina Roy knocked down a 3-pointer with 5:44 left to play. Roy’s second 3-pointer of the period made it 73-41 less than two minutes later, and South Carolina maintained a lead of at least 25 points the rest of the way.
Kansas State’s Breanna Lewis led all scorers with 21 points, and the forward fell one rebound short of a double-double after finishing with nine boards. South Carolina boasted a 47-32 rebound advantage and received 22 points from its bench, including eight from Cuevas.
Head Coach Dawn Staley
On South Carolina being able to send out its seniors on a good note in their final game at home
“We were able to salute and honor our seniors because we’re playing our best basketball. They have been the cornerstone of our program for the past four years, and it was only right to have 10,000 people send them off with the kind of ovation that they gave.”
South Carolina’s 12-2 run to start the second quarter pushed its lead to 15 points at 30-15 with 5:14 left in the first half. Five players scored for the Gamecocks during the stretch.
The Wildcats connected on just two of their 14 3-point attempts on the night. South Carolina converted six 3-pointers in the victory.
- South Carolina advanced to its third-straight NCAA Sweet 16 following the win.
- Forward A’ja Wilson’s basket early in the fourth quarter gave the sophomore 1,000 points for her career. Wilson became just the second Gamecock to reach the milestone in her sophomore season.
- Senior guard Tiffany Mitchell notched her fourth career 20-point game in NCAA Tournament play on Sunday against the Wildcats.
- The Gamecocks have held six of their last 10 opponents to under 50 points. Kansas State’s 47 points were their second-lowest scoring total this season.
South Carolina returns to action on Fri., March 25, when it faces fourth-seeded Syracuse in the Sweet 16. Tipoff for the contest is yet to be determined.