Feb. 26, 2015
COLUMBIA, S.C. - No. 2/2 South Carolina secured at least a share of the SEC Regular Season Championship for the second-straight season with a 69-50 win over No. 11/13 Mississippi State on Senior Night at Colonial Life Arena. Tiffany Mitchell scored a game-high 16 points as the Gamecocks (28-1, 15-0 SEC) captured their program-record 15th SEC win and capped their second-straight undefeated season at home.
Feeding off the Senior Day energy, the Gamecocks hit their first four shots and forced turnovers on Mississippi State's first two possessions. All three seniors got in on the act with Elem Ibiam scoring the night's first points with a pair of free throws. Mitchell set Olivia Gaines up for a long two on the right wing, and Aleighsa Welch followed a Mitchell jumper with a jump shot just outside the left block to pull out to an early 11-4 lead.
South Carolina maintained a small lead for the next 10 minutes, but the Bulldogs drew within three with 6:26 to play at 19-16. Asia Dozier kicked off a 12-2 run with back-to-back drives to the hoop. Then, Khadijah Sessions and Mitchell saw their defensive pressure pay off. Mitchell perfectly picked off a telegraphed pass and took it all the way to the other hoop. After helping to force the Bulldogs into a tough 3-pointer that missed the mark, Mitchell drained a jumper on the other end. She stepped in front of a Bulldog in-bound pass for another steal and pushed it ahead to Sessions. Sessions kicked it back to the trailing Mitchell for a basket and a foul. Mitchell converted the three-point play to cap the run that made the score 31-18 with three minutes remaining in the half.
Freshman Vivian Vivians found the basket again for Mississippi State, scoring five points on a jumper and a long 3, but the Gamecocks answered as A'ja Wilson netted a jumper and they forced consecutive Bulldog turnovers. Back on offense, Sessions lobbed the ball into the paint looking for Alaina Coates. The center skied to control the pass, hit the jumper and drew the foul. She missed the ensuing free throw, but Wilson cleaned it up for another basket. Vivians swished a 3 from the deep left corner just before the buzzer to make the score 39-26 at the half.
After Mississippi State's Martha Alwal scored on a layup to open the period, and the Gamecocks turned the ball over twice for a shaky start. Mitchell got things back on track, though, as the reigning SEC Player of the Year single-handedly broke the full court press to net a layup. Gaines ripped down the rebound on the other end, and Sessions drove to the hoop through traffic to grow the lead to 15 at 43-28 just less than 2:30 into the second half. The Bulldogs answered by scoring on back-to-back trips down the court on free throws from Vivian and a deep 3 from Jerica James.
Sessions held them off, fueling the Gamecocks for six quick points. First, the guard drove along the baseline and kicked up to Welch for jumper. Sessions kept it for herself next, scooping in a layup. After a missed Mitchell shot, Gaines tracked down the long offensive rebound and gave it back to Sessions who found an open Ibiam to cap the 90-second run and make the score 49-33 with 13:32 to play.
Both teams fell out of sync on offense for a large part of the second half, going a combined 3-of-22 over a nearly seven-minute stretch. During the lull South Carolina pushed the lead to 20 with a pair of Coates jumpers in the paint and two free throws with 6:18 to play. Mississippi State began relying on 3s to close the gap, attempting eight in the final six minutes. LaKaris Salter was 4-of-5 from behind the line in the stretch, but it was not enough as the Gamecocks held off the Bulldogs for the 69-50 win.
Mitchell rounded out her line with three steals, two assists and four rebounds. Wilson and Coates joined Mitchell in double figures with 13 and 10, respectively. Coates and Wilson pulled down seven rebounds each. Gaines was 4-of-5 from the floor to score a career-high nine points while adding three rebounds and a steal. In addition to her lock-down defense, Sessions dished our four assists and swiped two steals to go with five points. South Carolina was 26-of-51 from the field to shoot 51.0 percent while holding the Bulldogs to 34.5 percent from the floor after allowing just seven made field goals in the second half.
With the Bulldogs within three at 21-18, the Gamecocks mounted a 12-2 surge paced by seven straight points from Tiffany Mitchell. The run pushed the lead to double digits for the remainder of the game.
South Carolina limited Mississippi State to just 28.0 percent (7-of-25) from the field in the second half.
TWEETS OF THE GAME
The Gamecocks will look to take the SEC regular-season title outright at Kentucky in the regular-season finale on Sun., Mar. 1. ESPN2 is set to broadcast the 5 p.m. contest.
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