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March 7, 2013

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DULUTH, Ga. – No. 17/14 South Carolina scored a 77-35 win over Alabama in the second round of the SEC Tournament Thursday afternoon behind a dominant showing from the Gamecock frontcourt. Sophomore center Elem Ibiam’s career-high 19 points led the way in the program’s largest margin of victory in an SEC Tournament game. Senior forward and second-team All-SEC selection Ashley Bruner netted a double-double that included a season-high 14 rebounds. The fifth-seeded Gamecocks (24-6) advance to the quarterfinals to take on No. 19/19 Texas A&M on Friday at 2:30 p.m.

“I thought we played extremely well,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said. “We played with a lot of energy, especially in the second half. The second half is something we’ve really been concentrating on, getting off to better starts. I thought our players really concentrated on taking care of the basketball, getting the ball inside, taking care of the mismatches that we had on the floor. We put a total 40 minutes together.”

South Carolina shot 50.9 percent from the field in the game, tying the program record for field goal percentage in an SEC Tournament game, with every Gamecock scoring at least three points. Of the team’s 77 points , the most for the Gamecocks in an SEC Tournament game since 2003, 40 were scored in the paint. The 42-point margin of victory was the Gamecocks’ largest in an SEC Tournament game and the largest in any game against an SEC opponent since a 60-point win over Alabama (95-35) on Jan. 14, 2007. The 35 points allowed were the fewest by a Gamecock opponent in an SEC Tournament game and the fewest by an SEC opponent this season.

The Crimson Tide got an early 5-2 lead, but the Gamecocks went on a 19-4 run that opened up a 13-point lead, from which they never looked back. The surge got started with a 3 from Tiffany Mitchell, and a pair of free throws from Aleighsa Welch put South Carolina on top at 7-5. Alabama’s Kaneisha Horn knotted the game with a drive, but Khadijah Sessions answered with a 3-pointer from the right corner. Bruner hit back-to-back buckets for a 14-7 advantage seven minutes into the game. Horn hit again, which led to another seven straight points from South Carolina.

Welch sank two free throws, and Ibiam got her offense going with a short jumper in the lane. Sancheon White drained a 3 from the right wing to make it a double-digit Gamecock advantage, 21-9 with 10:47 left in the half. Both teams suffered an extended scoring drought. Ibiam finally broke through for South Carolina with a move on the right block.

South Carolina took a 28-18 lead into the locker room, marking the seventh time this season the Gamecocks allowed fewer than 20 points in the first half this season. The Gamecocks then exploded into the second half, scoring 16 of the period’s first 18 points to establish a 24-point advantage with 14:30 to play. The surge came from defense and defensive rebounds as the Gamecock running game was in full stride, and Ieasia Walker drained a pair of 3s out of the half-court offense. From there, Ibiam’s relentless work on the block ensured that the Crimson Tide did not find any rhythm.

Ibiam’s career-high offense came with nine rebounds, leaving her just short of her first career double-double. Bruner’s double-double, the sixth of her career, came on 10 points and 14 boards. Sessions added 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field while Mitchell and Welch each scored nine points. Walker finished with five assists to go with eight points in 26 minutes on the court. South Carolina dominated the glass 47-31 and scored 19 points on 17 offensive rebounds.

The Gamecocks are back in action on Friday against fourth-seed Texas A&M. It is the second-straight season South Carolina has reached the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The regular-season meeting between the Gamecocks and Aggies in Columbia yielded a narrow 50-48 win for A&M. Friday’s game will air on SportSouth and ESPN3.