No. 17/14 South Carolina dropped a physical 75-69 decision to Kansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Coors Event Center Monday night. Four Gamecocks (25-8) finished in double figures, led by double-doubles from Ashley Bruner, Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam. Ieasia Walker also scored in double figures while handing out four assists and picking up four steals. The game was tied 69-69 with just under three minutes to play, and it was the Jayhawks there were fresh enough down the stretch of the hard-fought game to finish off the victory as the Gamecocks struggled to score despite relentless effort on the offensive glass.
The first half was marked by significant runs by both teams. Kansas went first with an early 6-0 surge that had the Jayhawks up 11-6 just four minutes into the game. South Carolina settled in after the first media timeout, though, and got back within a point behind solid play on the block from Ibiam. She scored six straight points, but the Jayhawks were keeping pace.
After Khadijah Sessions hit a pair of free throws, Walker picked up a trademark steal – timing a cut by the opposing point guard and stepping into the passing lane to collect the ball and race up the floor for a layup that put the Gamecocks up 22-21 with 8:47 on the clock. With their first lead since the 17-minute mark, the Gamecocks kept the pressure on. Ibiam hit a pair of free throws after being fouled on an offensive rebound, and after she blocked a shot on the other end, Sessions converted a transition layup. Bruner collected a defensive rebound after a tough KU shot, then backed down her defender to hit a bucket to make it a 28-21 South Carolina lead with just under seven minutes left in the half.
The Jayhawks would not go away, though, and senior Monica Engelman put the team on her back to get back in the contest. While the Gamecocks got consecutive friendly rolls on shots just beating the shot clock and open a 33-25 lead, Engelman drained a pair of 3s to pull her team within a buck at 36-34 with 3:40 to go in the period. Walker answered with a 3 from the right wing, but the Jayhawk were energized by their senior, rolling off the next six points to take a 40-39 lead. The Gamecocks reclaimed the lead on a bucket from Welch, but KU's angel Goodrich drove the length of the floor for a layup to put her team up 42-41 heading into the locker room.
The second half was a battle early with both teams fighting for every possession. Bruner got the Gamecocks off to a good start offensively, and Tiffany Mitchell scrapped for a series of offensive rebounds. The Jayhawks stayed the course, though, and the game stayed tight until the Jayhawks rattled off a 9-2 run that included six straight points from the free throw line. The Gamecocks struggled to find the basket for the first time in the game, and it was the opening KU needed to surge ahead.
South Carolina responded with a 6-0 run by crashing the boards and pushing the ball up the floor quickly. Ibiam rebounded a missed free throw by Welch, and Bruner finished it off with a runner in the lane. After an Ibiam rebound on the other end, Walker found Welch in transition for a layup. South Carolina turned it over, but Sessions raced back to defend KU in transition and got the ball back. Ibiam made her hard work pay off with a move on the right block to knot the game at 59-59 with 10:12 to play.
The teams traded 6-0 runs to end up tied at 67-67 with 3:50 to play. For the Gamecocks, it was Welch working on the block offensively and pounding the defensive glass. Both teams were defending hard, and fighting for every loose ball. The teams again traded baskets for a 69-69 tie with 2:49 to go. KU took the lead with a bucket from Davis on the left block, then turned a Gamecock turnover into a free throw for a 72-69 lead with 2:14 on the clock.
South Carolina was all over the offensive boards, grabbing five on the next possession, but the Gamecocks could not convert on the resulting free throws. The defense forced a tough shot from the Jayhawks, and Walker snagged the rebound and raced up the floor. A pair of missed shots yielded offensive rebounds, but the third went the Jayhawks' way. Kansas hit free throws down the stretch to seal the win over the battle-weary Gamecocks.
Bruner turned in her fifth-straight double-double, leading the team with 12 rebounds and tying for team-high honors with 16 points. Welch matched the 16 points to go with her 11 rebounds. Ibiam added 12 points and 10 boards, including seven in the second half alone. South Carolina shot 51.6 percent in the first half, but its offensive struggles of the season returned in the second half, managing just 26.8 percent shooting from the field. The Gamecocks won the battle of the boards 47-43 and out-scored Kansas 44-38 in the paint.