Feb. 18, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. — A strong defensive effort and 32 combined points from senior guards Tiffany Mitchell and Khadijah Sessions pushed No. 3/2 South Carolina to a 61-51 win over Georgia on Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks, who claimed the outright SEC regular-season championship with the victory, remained a perfect 13-0 in SEC play and moved to 25-1 overall following Thursday’s contest.
Led by Sessions, the Gamecocks set the tone on the defensive end in the first half, holding Georgia to single digits in each of the first two periods. Scoring runs to end the second and third quarters helped give South Carolina a 16-point lead with 10 minutes to play, and the Gamecocks were able to hold off a late rally by the Bulldogs down the stretch. Mitchell added four assists to go along with her team-high 19 points, while sophomore forward A’ja Wilson joined the senior guard and Sessions in double figures with 16 points.
Defense led to offense for the Gamecocks in the early going, as South Carolina jumped out to a 4-0 lead behind four points off a pair of Georgia turnovers. Both teams struggled from the field throughout the first period, and the Gamecocks generated most of their points from the free throw line. A free throw from junior center Alaina Coates late in the quarter gave South Carolina a 10-7 advantage, and the Gamecocks took a 10-9 lead into the second period. Six of South Carolina’s 10 points in the opening quarter came from the line.
The teams traded baskets to start the second period before two alert plays from Mitchell helped the advantage grow to 17-11. The senior scored an uncontested layup after swiping her first steal of the night, and she set up Coates for another basket down low on the Gamecocks’ next trip down the floor. A step-back 3-pointer from Mitchell minutes later pushed the lead to 22-13 for the Gamecocks, who closed the half on a 10-0 run that was highlighted by a 3-point buzzer-beater by Sessions.
South Carolina’s defense remained the difference, as the Bulldogs missed 10 of their first 11 shot attempts of the second period and converted just two field goals during the 10-minute stretch. Mitchell and Sessions combined to outscore Georgia, 11-4, in the quarter, and the Gamecocks headed to the locker room leading 27-13.
A 5-0 run by the Bulldogs out of the half cut South Carolina’s advantage back to single digits, but the Gamecock defense continued to hang tough. Georgia committed four turnovers over a span of two minutes midway though the period, and Coates’ second field goal of the contest made it 36-27 with 3:25 left in the quarter. Back-to-back buckets from Wilson extended the lead to 40-27 before guard Tina Roy’s 3-pointer gave the Gamecocks their largest cushion of the night at 43-27. South Carolina once again posted a strong finish to the quarter, closing the period on a 9-0 run to grab a 43-27 advantage.
Mitchell became the third Gamecock to reach double figures after knocking down her second 3-pointer of the night in the early stages of the final period to make it 46-30. Georgia responded with a 9-2 run to once again cut the deficit to single digits, and the Bulldogs inched even closer when a jumper by Marjorie Butler shrank South Carolina’s lead to five at 50-45 with 3:17 left to play. South Carolina’s answer came through Mitchell and Sessions down the stretch. Mitchell hit a jumper on the run to push the advantage to 52-45, and a steal by Sessions less than a minute later led to an easy layup for Wilson to make it 54-45. Georgia wouldn’t get within five points the rest of the way, as the Bulldogs missed six of their final eight shots.
Guard Tiaria Griffin poured in a game-high 24 points for Georgia, which was held to 35.6 percent shooting on the night. South Carolina recorded 13 steals and totaled 19 points off of turnovers.
Senior guard Khadijah Sessions put the game away after her key steal led to a South Carolina field goal that pushed the lead to 54-45 with 1:25 left in the game. The basket was part of the Gamecocks’ 6-0 run that came after Georgia had cut its deficit to five.
The Gamecocks held Georgia to just six free throw attempts throughout the game. South Carolina attempted 27 shots from the line, converting 16 of them.
- Georgia’s four second-quarter points were the lowest for a South Carolina opponent in a period this season. The Gamecocks have held an opponent to five points or less in a quarter three times during the season.
- South Carolina’s 21 forced turnovers were the most for the Gamecocks in SEC play this season.
- The Bulldogs finished the game with just three made free throws, the fewest for a South Carolina opponent this season.
- Senior guard Khadijah Sessions totaled a career-high six steals in the win over Georgia.
South Carolina Head Coach Dawn Staley
On South Carolina winning its third-straight SEC regular-season title
“It feels great. We did enough to get the job done. We’re going to dig deep now and rest up so we can find a way to close the season out the way we want to.”
The Gamecocks are back in action on Mon., Feb. 22, when they face Alabama on the road at Foster Auditorium. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m., and the contest can be seen on SEC Network+.
TWEET OF THE GAME
– Lesley Lawrimore (@lesusc1) February 19, 2016