Bench Energy Fuels Dominant Gamecock Victory in SEC Tournament

Bench Energy Fuels Dominant Gamecock Victory in SEC Tournament
The South Carolina women dominated Georgia in their SEC Tournament opener on Friday to advance to the semifinals (Source: USC Athletics)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Mikiah Herbert Harrigan had 16 points and Tyasha Harris 15 as No. 1 South Carolina won its 24th straight game, beating Georgia 89-56 to start the SEC Tournament on Friday.

The Gamecocks (30-1), the regular-season champs and tournament's top seed, reached the 30-win mark for fourth time in the past six seasons and beat the ninth-seeded Bulldogs (17-14) for the 12th straight game.

Herbert Harrigan and Harris, the last players left from the 2017 national champions, led the way.

The senior duo combined for six of the Gamecocks' first 10 points and kept pushing the tempo after the team had opened a double-digit lead. Harris hit a 3-pointer to cap a 13-3 run that made it 45-28.

The Gamecocks will play either No. 15 Texas A&M or No. 25 Arkansas in the semifinals Saturday.

South Carolina's stellar freshman class, so smooth much of the season, was not as steady in its first taste of the postseason.

Guards Zia Cooke and Brea Beal, both freshmen starters, were a combined 2-of-7 shooting for nine points.

Forward Aliyah Boston, the 6-foot-5 newcomer, continued controlling the middle with 10 rebounds and four of South Carolina's 12 blocked shots. Reserves Laeticia Amihere and Victaria Saxton had three blocks apiece for the Gamecocks.

Jenna Staiti led Georgia with 16 points, only two of them coming in the final two quarters.

South Carolina had a new mission this week - getting its young team ready for postseason. Coach Dawn Staley was concerned about her newcomers handling a five-day layoff before a three-games-in-three days tournament gauntlet.

And South Carolina struggled at times early to find its consistency.

The Bulldogs had a chance to go in front, trailing 16-15, in the first quarter's final minute when South Carolina ran off seven points.

THE BIG PICTURE

Georgia: The Bulldogs fell apart whenever South Carolina turned up the pressure. They had 12 turnovers in the game's first 11 minutes, including five in a row as the Gamecocks built a double-digit lead. Both losses to South Carolina this season came by 30-plus points.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks were boosted by their seniors, who know a thing or two about celebrating titles. The pair have combined for two regular-season SEC titles, two SEC tournament titles and the 2017 national crown.

GAMECHANGER

The South Carolina defense caught fire in the final minute of the first quarter, forcing three straight turnovers and blocking a shot on the next possession. Every denial turned into points, and the 7-0 run broke out a 16-15 game.

KEY STAT

South Carolina's bench accounted for three of the team's double-digit scorers, netting 40 of the team's 89 points. It is the eighth game this season in which the bench has accounted for at least 40.0 percent of the team's total scoring.

NOTABLES

• South Carolina advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the fifth time in the last six seasons.

• Five Gamecocks scored in double figures for the 16th in this season's 31 games.

• South Carolina's 12 blocked shots were its most since swatted 13 against Vanderbilt (Feb. 17). It was the ninth game of double-digit blocks by the nation's leader in blocks per game.

• The Gamecocks shot better than 50.0 percent from the field for the second time in three games, and the 56.3 percent shooting today fell just short of the program's single-game SEC Tournament record of 57.1 percent (vs. Kentucky, 3/4/17; vs. Georgia, 3/7/14).

• South Carolina tallied 19 assists on its 36 made field goals, including seven on eight made field goals in the second quarter.

UP NEXT

The Gamecocks will play the winner of the quarterfinal between fifth-seeded #25/- Arkansas and fourth-seeded #15/19 Texas A&M. Tipoff in that semifinal is set for 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.