South Carolina struggled with turnovers in the first half and could not recover in a 68-58 loss to…
Gamecocks start Tourney right, bury Bulldogs
South Carolina attacked the Georgia defense immediately after winning the opening tipoff, going to the trio of known impact players in Aleighsa Welch, Tiffany Mitchell and Elem Ibiam to open a 10-2 lead five minutes into the game. The Lady Bulldogs fought back to a 14-9 contest with Shacobia Barbee hit a 3 from the right wing, but the Gamecocks answered with 13 straight points to stamp their authority on the contest.
Tina Roy got the five-minutes run going with a 3-pointer from the right side then turned a Welch steal and offensive rebound into an easy bucket underneath to put the Gamecocks up 19-9 just over 10 minutes into the half. A Georgia turnover led to a pair of free throws from Tiffany Davis, and, after two empty possessions by each team, Roy buried a 3 at the end of the shot clock to restart the Gamecock offense. Welch hit a free throw, and Mitchell added two more to cap the surge that gave South Carolina a 27-9 lead with just under six minutes to go until halftime.
Georgia looked to rally behind four straight scoring possessions that cut the deficit to 11 points, but the Gamecock defense reasserted itself over the final three minutes of the period as the offense continued to find post players for high-percentage shots. South Carolina took a 35-18 lead into the locker room at halftime behind 54.2 percent field goal shooting.
Despite opening the second half with the ball, Georgia saw the period open much like the first with South Carolina not resting on its 17-point advantage. Mitchell drove the lane and Welch hit a baseline jumper to push the lead to 21, 39-18, less than two minutes into the period. The Lady Bulldogs took advantage of offensive rebounds to score on back-to-back possessions, but South Carolina kept its foot on the gas offensively. Ibiam opened an 8-0 run that included a transition layup for Mitchell, another inside bucket from Ibiam and a short jumper from Asia Dozier at the 16:43 that seemingly put the game out of reach for Georgia against an aggressive, stingy Gamecock defense.
When head coach Dawn Staley looked to get extra minutes for her bench and rest her starters for tomorrow's game, the Lady Bulldogs chipped away at the lead but got no closer than 15 for the remainder of the game.
South Carolina scored 46 of its 67 points in the paint en route to 57.1 percent shooting, including 60.0 percent in the second half alone. Four Gamecocks finished with double-figures points, led by 13 from Coates, on 6-of-8 shooting. Ibiam posted 12 on 6-of-7 accuracy, and Mitchell and Welch rounded out the quartet with 11 and 10, respectively. Dozier handed out six assists to tie her career high. All 12 Gamecocks on the roster saw playing time with 11 scoring at least two points in the outing.
The Gamecocks await the winner of the quarterfinal between Kentucky and Florida in Saturday's semifinal game at noon. It is the second time in the Dawn Staley era that South Carolina has reached the SEC Tournament semis.
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