DULUTH, Ga. -- No. 5 South Carolina opened Day Three of the SEC Tournament with a 67-48 rout of Georgia.
The win advanced the Gamecocks to the tournament semifinals for the second time in program history. The 2012 team also made the semifinals, losing to Tennessee. This year, the Gamecocks will play the winner of the Kentucky-Florida game.
South Carolina started the game strong, pounding out a 10-2 lead in the first five minutes of the game. Shacobia Barbee made an open three out of a timeout to draw Georgia within five, at 14-9 with 10:49 left in the half, but that was the Bulldogs' last gasp. Tina Roy answered with a three-pointer, and then a layup off an offensive rebound to jumpstart a 13-0 Gamecock run. Roy, who had scored five points total in her last four games, scored eight during the run.
"I was happy to see Tina Roy come off and give us a spark," said head coach Dawn Staley. "If we can get her going we can be very successful. She can probably shoot it better than anyone on our team if she gets hot."
Now trailing 27-9, Georgia would double its point total over the next two minutes, but South Carolina did not flinch. The Gamecocks ended the first half on a 6-0 run to lead 35-18 at the break, and then opened the second half with a 12-4 run. Combined, the Gamecocks outscored the Bulldogs 18-4 over five minutes, and doubled up the Bulldogs 47-22. Putting Georgia away quickly was a point of emphasis at halftime.
"They are incredibly streaky," Staley said. "Once they get on a roll, they are pretty hard to guard. We wanted to jump out on them the first five minutes and if we could put it away and get some other players in the game."
Staley began resting her key players midway through the second half. Nobody on the team played more than 27 minutes and ten players had double digit minutes.
Georgia grabbed 21 offensive rebounds for 21 second chance points and held a 40-35 rebounding edge, but otherwise South Carolina dominated in every facet of the game. The Gamecocks were neatly balanced in scoring, with top scorers Alaina Coates, Elem Ibiam, Tiffany Mitchell, and Aleighsa Welch scoring 13, 12, 11, and 10 points, respectively. South Carolina shot 57.1 percent, and held Georgia to 26.1 percent. South Carolina blocked nine shots, and allowed just one Bulldog in double figures (Erika Ford with 10).
South Carolina does come out of the game with a big area of concern. The Gamecocks shot just 9-21 on free throws, 42.9 percent. They also missed the front end of several one and ones, costing themselves additional attempts. As they have all season, the Gamecocks did a good job of drawing early fouls and getting into the bonus quickly. But trips to the free throw line almost did more harm than good against the Bulldogs.
"I don't want to go down the road we went down last year when we were horrible from a free throw shooting standpoint," Staley said. "We've been pretty good the last couple of games out."
Staley said that the players' lack of familiarity with the setting, The Arena at Gwinnett Center, may have contributed to the poor shooting.
Mitchell had to leave the game due to injury in the second half, but she did not appear to be hurt. An official stopped play after she went down hard, so by rule Mitchell had to leave the game... Roy's eight points were her most in a game since January 9, when she scored 11 against Kentucky... Despite the poor free throw shooting, South Carolina made the same number of free throws as Georgia attempted (9)... The Bulldogs made seven of their attempts... South Carolina plays its next game Saturday at noon...