Box Score (South Carolina Athletics Media Relations)
In one of the two regular season meetings between South Carolina and Georgia this year, the Gamecocks were without one of their star players in A'ja Wilson. The Lady Bulldogs took advantage and nearly pulled off the upset at Colonial Life Arena before falling by three points.
In the SEC Tournament quarterfinal matchup between the two teams on Friday, March 3, at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, the Gamecocks were without their other star player this time in Alaina Coates, who is still fighting to recover from a sprained ankle.
It was a much different result, however.
Wilson was present and promptly took over and scored 18 points to go with seven rebounds and seven blocks, and the bench played spectacular as well. South Carolina cruised to a 72-48 win over Georgia. The win made South Carolina 3-for-3 against the Lady Bulldogs this year, and also allowed it to advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals.
"I thought we came out the gates ready to rock and roll," head coach Dawn Staley said. "Pushing the pace and not allowing Georgia to play at the pace they've been successful (at). I thought we took advantage of the space that was left by Alaina Coates not being able to play today."
The game started off strongly for Georgia (15-15) as Pachis Roberts nailed a long straightaway three at the shot clock buzzer, but not much else went well for the Lady Bulldogs in the first quarter.
The Gamecocks (25-4) started off slow as well as it took them two and a half minutes to score a point. South Carolina didn't get its first field goal until three minutes in when Wilson scored. The junior would score six straight points for the Gamecocks to give them a two-point lead just over halfway through the first.
It was 11-5 before Georgia's Caliya Robinson answered. Allisha Gray then heated up, first hitting a tough jumper from the free throw line before burying a long 3-pointer that gave South Carolina a 17-7 lead after the first quarter. Georgia ended that first quarter on a 3:33 scoring drought.
South Carolina would continue to stretch its lead in the second quarter. Starting in place of the injured Coates, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan had a nice layup to make it a 14-point lead. Her basket also capped a 10-0 run for the Gamecocks.
Just a few minutes later, Bianca Cuevas-Moore scooped a difficult pass into the low post to Wilson, who finished with the layup. On the next possession, Gray swished home another three, forcing the Lady Bulldogs to call timeout with South Carolina leading, 27-9.
Georgia had several long scoring droughts in the first half, and the Gamecocks continued to build the lead. It took the Lady Bulldogs more than 15 minutes to break double digits, and after they did, Gray nailed another trey to make it 34-10 South Carolina.
As the first half was drawing to a close, Gray made her third three of the game at the end of the shot clock buzzer to send South Carolina into the halftime break with a comfortable, 42-16 lead. Gray's 13 points led the Gamecocks while Wilson was right behind her with 12. Cuevas-Moore was a true spark plug off the bench, registering four rebounds, five assists and three points in 14 minutes played.
"Bianca has been in a hairy situation where sometimes she starts and sometimes she comes off the bench," Staley said. "She's been real focused in on wherever she's inserted into the game. She's always ready to play. But today especially, I thought she came in and gave us a boost. She took it to another level."
South Carolina made 11-of-30 (36.7 percent) field goals in the first half while Georgia made just 6-of-31 (19.4 percent).
The Gamecocks kept up the great defense in the third quarter, and maintained their big lead. Wilson continued to dominate offensively and was also a force on the defensive end of the floor. She began the second half with two straight baskets to help the Gamecocks stretch their lead to 30 points. Doniyah Cliney's nifty layup made it 54-20 South Carolina around midway through the quarter.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks led, 56-27, and Wilson had 16 points, seven rebounds and seven blocks.
"I just give it all to the guards," Wilson said. "They've been hitting shots lately, so it's really been opening up the post."
Georgia kept fighting hard in the fourth quarter and closed the gap some, but South Carolina was still able to maintain a comfortable lead and came away with the big victory. The bench played well, and a couple of young players stepped up for career performances. Cliney finished with a career-high 11 points while Herbert Harrigan notched a career-high 10 rebounds.
"I'm a lot more confident," Herbert Harrigan said. "My teammates have given me confidence, coach Staley gives me confidence. They just tell me to be aggressive."
South Carolina advances to the SEC Tournament semifinals on Saturday, March 4, against the winner of the Alabama-Kentucky game that started shortly after the Gamecocks' game. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday.
Staley is hopeful that Coates will be able to go in the semifinals, but won't know until closer to game time.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**