Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Gamecocks' Length Too Much for Gators (Recap of Florida v. South Carolina Women's Basketball Game)

The South Carolina Women's Basketball team entered Sunday's "Think Pink" game vs. Florida on a major roll.  Ranked #4 in the country, Dawn Staley's Gamecocks had won eight straight games, six of those by thirteen or more points.  South Carolina leads the SEC in overall scoring margin, outscoring their opponents by a ridiculous twenty plus points per game.

Florida had literally a tall task on Sunday.  The Gamecocks lead the SEC in blocks, averaging over seven per game.  The Gators entered the game as the third leading scoring team in the SEC, averaging over seventy five points per game, shooting forty four percent per game, good for fourth in the conference.  It was offense vs. defense in a game where breast cancer victims were being recognized all throughout the game for their fight against breast cancer.

It was another warm day in Columbia, as my friend Dave, his son Morgan, my son Matthew and I took in the game.  And we were definitely not the only ones taking in the game at Colonial Life Arena.  A crowd of 10,547, the second largest crowd to ever see a women's basketball game in the arena, was there to watch the Gamecocks try for their ninth straight win.

Florida, who hold a season series sweep over #15 Kentucky, came out flying at the start, scoring the first seven points in the game in a little over two minutes.  Cassie Peoples had five of the first seven Gators' points.

But once freshman center Alaina Coates came into the game, the momentum swung.   The Gamecocks would score ten straight points with Coates giving them an 8-7 lead on a layup.  Aleigsha Welch's jumper capped the spurt and put the Gamecocks up three.

More importantly, South Carolina imposed its length on Florida.  In the first six minutes, the Gamecocks had five blocks, two by Coates and two by Elem Ibiam.  As a result, the Gators went nearly eight minutes without a field goal.

Florida finally broke the drought on a Jatera Bonds layup to cut the lead to one, 10-9.  The Gators would keep the game close over the next three and a half minutes.  Peoples would hit a three to keep Florida within two, 19-17 with a little under seven minutes left in the half.

But South Carolina would respond with a 11-1 run over the next five minutes.  The Gamecocks would block another two shots in the span.  Had it not been for three South Carolina turnovers, the spurt might have been larger.   Still, Coates hit one of two free throws to put the Gamecocks up 30-18.  Two Bonds' jumpers cut the lead to eight before Ibiam made two free throws before the end of the half to put South Carolina up 32-22 at halftime.

After a very nice halftime event that recognized fans that had survived breast cancer or had a family member who had breast cancer, the Gamecocks extended their lead to sixteen, 46-30 with a little under thirteen minutes left.  Tiffany Mitchell was responsible for five baskets in the first seven plus minutes of the second half, scoring on three layups and assisting on two other field goals.  It looked like the game was about over.

But Florida refused to quit, outscoring South Carolina 13-3 over the span of seven minutes.  The Gamecocks went ice cold from the field during that span, hitting on only one of ten shot attempts and turning the ball over three times as Florida did a pretty good job of trying to deny the entry pass to the Gamecock bigs.  A Kayla Lewis layup cut the deficit to six, 49-43 with 5:17 left.

But that's as close as Florida got the rest of the way as South Carolina outscored them 20-12 over the last four minutes and forty nine seconds.  Mitchell and Coates scored fourteen of the Gamecocks final twenty points as South Carolina won its ninth game in a row, a hard fought 69-55 contest.

The Gamecocks held the Gators to twenty points under their season scoring average and Florida only shot thirty two percent from the field.  This shouldn't come as a surprise given the Gamecocks lead the SEC in Field Goal Percentage Defense at thirty four percent. South Carolina had eleven blocks in the game and outrebounded Florida 44-29.  Mitchell led the Gamecocks with twenty points and added eight rebounds.  Coates got another double with sixteen points and twelve rebounds. Welsh added twelve points for the Gamecocks.  Bonds led Florida with twenty points and Lewis added fifteen for the Gators.

With the win, the Gamecocks moved to 25-2 and 13-1 in the SEC.  After Texas A&M lost to Kentucky, the Gamecocks clinched at least a tie for the SEC Regular Season Championship, the first in the history of the program. The Gamecocks can win the SEC Regular Season Championship outright with a win over Georgia at home on Thursday, February 27.

Sounds like a good night to watch a team clinch its first outright championship.

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