GREENVILLE, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina celebrates consecutive SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament crowns. The Gamecocks outlast rival Georgia in Sunday’s championship from Greenville, SC, 67-62. It marks Carolina’s sixth tournament title in the last seven years.
Sophomore star forward Aliyah Boston asserted her presence in the paint. Boston dominated on both ends to finish with another remarkable stat line. She collected 27 points, ten rebounds, and four blocks.
Carolina entered the championship Sunday averaging 27 points per game in the first quarter of tournament play.
The Gamecocks offense began with the same attacking mindset we’ve witnessed this season. All of Carolina’s first-quarter points either came in the paint or from the charity stripe.
Georgia matched Carolina’s potent offense in the opening frame. The Bulldogs dropped 13 points in the first five minutes, shooting 63% from the field in that stretch. By the first media timeout, UGA held a 13-9 lead with 4:30 to play.
Georgia’s lights-out shooting did not cool off following the first break in the action. The Bulldogs were ready to go and surged to a 23-17 advantage thru one.
Every Gamecock starter found the scoresheet in the first quarter. Despite a shooting slump in the frame, a stretch that included making 1 of 8 from the field, Carolina managed to keep pace with UGA. The Gamecocks scored 12 points in the paint in the first.
In the second quarter, the Gamecocks greeted the Bulldogs with a fiercer defensive front. Georgia went more than three minutes without scoring.
Carolina seized momentum during that scoreless stretch with a 7-0 run. It featured the Gamecocks first bucket from outside the paint, a Destanni Henderson triple at the 7:38 mark.
Then they reclaimed the lead when Lateticia Amihere showcased her athleticism with a sweet spin move in the lane for the bucket, 26-25 Gamecocks with 6:28 to play.
The first half featured nine lead changes. The biggest bucket came in the final moments when Zia Cooke confidently drained a three-point bucket with a second to spare. The triple knotted the contest at 35-35, heading into the locker room.
Boston was the tone-setter for Carolina. She scored 14 first-half points to pace the Gamecocks.
Quarter by quarter, Carolina’s will seemed to wear down Georgia’s just enough to create separation. Even though Carolina struggled to maintain consistent offensive flow, its defense flustered UGA.
The Bulldogs yet again found themselves searching for answers on offense. UGA had multiple lengthy stretches without a made basket in the third quarter. The Bulldogs made only four buckets and shot 22.2% from the field in the frame.
It gave Carolina a window of opportunity to finally build a lead. The Gamecocks did not miss their shot at doing so. The Gamecocks closed the quarter on a 9-0 run in a span of 3:14. Carolina outscored Georgia 17-8 to enter the final ten minutes with a 52-43 lead.
Carolina’s Cooke did not start the fourth quarter as she did light jogging and stretching behind the bench.
Then early in the frame, Gamecock senior forward LeLe Grissett checked out quickly after slipping on a dribble-drive near the top of the key. She went over to the bench and immediately took off her right shoe, wincing in pain.
Georgia failed to take advantage of two key Gamecock players unavailable in that short period. And Cooke would eventually check back with under seven minutes to play, Grissett would not. Grissett returned to the bench on crutches and in a walking boot.
With Carolina clinging to a 58-52 lead, Boston picked up her fourth foul of the game with 3:15 to play. A potential turning point with the best player on the court in danger of finding a permanent seat on the bench.
The Gamecocks offense went more than five minutes without a made field in the fourth quarter. Georgia’s Que Morrison made a layup with 2:09 to play to make it a four-point ball game.
Head coach Dawn Staley called a timeout. The Gamecocks immediately found the net when Henderson connected on the pull-up jumper with 1:44 to play to make it 60-54. A collective sigh of relief could be felt from the stands.
Morrison refused to let the Bulldogs go quietly from the Upstate. Morrison connected on a three with 14.7 seconds left to pull the Bulldogs within three, 65-62.
Boston came through in the clutch, making a pair of free throws following the big Bulldog triple. It provided a five-point cushion and enough to secure the dance under the confetti in Greenville.
The Gamecocks, denied the regular-season crown, rejoiced winning back-to-back SEC Tournament titles. Carolina under Staley is 6-0 in SEC Tournament championship games.
Henderson, left off both All-SEC teams, shined in crunch time with big shots from the field and the line. She finished with 18 points and nine rebounds.