DULUTH | Georgia may well be destined for its 20th consecutive NCAA tournament, but the Lady Bulldogs sure didn‚Äôt look like a tournament team on Friday.
Utilizing a merciless inside game, top-seeded South Carolina (27-3) pounded ninth seed Georgia (20-11) in nearly every imaginable way, blasting the Lady Bulldogs 67-48 in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
In the postgame news conference, several Georgia players spoke of being hopeful to be invited to the NCAAs, but Lady Bulldogs coach Andy Landers said he‚Äôd prefer to hang his hat on a little more than hope.
‚ÄúYou know, hopefulness is what occurs when you don‚Äôt take care of your business,‚Äù Landers, whose team went 7-9 in conference play this year, said. ‚ÄúThen you‚Äôve got to hope somebody else takes care of you, that things fall your way.
‚ÄúEvery team in the NCAA has the ability to create the opportunity and take the hope out of the hands of those who will decide. We didn‚Äôt do that. So now we are hopeful. And hopefully isn‚Äôt where you want to be day in and day out.‚Äù
With that being said, Landers ‚Äî whose team shot an anemic 26 percent against South Carolina ‚Äî did opine that he felt his team belonged on the NCAA‚Äôs invite list.
‚ÄúDo I think we should be in? Yes,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúAre we one of the 64 best teams in the country? Absolutely. ‚Ä¶ Most of our team wasn‚Äôt born the last time we didn‚Äôt play in the NCAA tournament.‚Äù
There‚Äôs little question South Carolina was eager to erase the unpleasant memory of its regular-season-ending loss to Tennessee, but Georgia‚Äôs undoing came as a result of another slow start. Unfortunately, the rally that the Lady Bulldogs had been able to rely on in nearly every conference game this season did not materialize Friday as the Gamecocks jumped out to a 10-2 lead and never looked back.
‚ÄúWe came out ready to play, especially on both sides of the ball,‚Äù South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said of the Gamecocks, ranked No. 5 in the nation. ‚ÄúWe were very efficient from an offensive standpoint, and defensively, I thought our players played with a lot of energy and they were committed to making sure we chased hard off screens and contested each shot.‚Äù
South Carolina will face the Florida-Kentucky winner at noon today in the semifinals.
In the first half, Georgia had no answer for South Carolina‚Äôs frontcourt attack. The Gamecocks connected on 13 field goals in the first 20 minutes, with only two baskets (a pair of 3-pointers by Tina Roy) coming from the perimeter.
In their effort to stop the bleeding, the Lady Bulldogs committed 11 first-half fouls, sending South Carolina to the line for 14 free throws, seven of which the Gamecocks made. Alaina Coates made four of five shots for eight points and Aleighsa Welch hit three of four inside to tally seven points; she also pulled down seven first-half rebounds.
In contrast, Georgia didn‚Äôt shoot a single free throw in the first half and went to the line nine times in the second half, making seven foul shots.
Coates came off the bench to lead all scorers with 13 points, and she was followed by Elem Ibiam (12 points), Tiffany Mitchell (11 points), and Welch (10 points). Erika Ford was the only Georgia player to reach double-digits, finishing with 10 points in 32 minutes of play.
Georgia experienced a scoring drought of some six minutes, with Merritt Hempe scoring on a stickback at the 11:35 mark and scoring again at 5:06. In the meantime, the Gamecocks registered 15 points during that stretch, extending their lead to 27-11.
The Lady Bulldogs experienced a brief rally at the 5-minute mark as Krista Donald earned a putback off a missed shot by Khaalidah Miller, Hempe scored a layup and Donald followed with a 3-pointer, but the Gamecocks scored the last six points of the half, thanks to a pair of field goals by Coates.
And it was basically more of the same in the second 20 minutes as the Gamecocks opened play by going on an 18-10 run to take their largest lead of the game ‚Äî 27 points at 55-28 ‚Äî with 10 minutes remaining. The Lady Bulldogs scored 14 points in the game‚Äôs final five minutes to make the final count a little less gaudy, although it was Georgia‚Äôs worst loss to a league opponent this season.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre a good team. They were ready to compete,‚Äù Donald, who finished with seven points and a game-high 13 rebounds, said. ‚ÄúI feel like we as a team didn‚Äôt come out ready to play. The scored showed that.‚Äù
NOTES: Georgia ranks No. 2 in the country in all-time NCAA bids, competing in the tournament 30 of the 32 times it has been held. ‚Ä¶ After shooting 54.2 percent (13 of 24) in the first half, the Gamecocks did even better in the second half, making 15 of 25 shots (60 percent). ‚Ä¶ The Lady Bulldogs were 8 of 33 in the first half (24.2 percent) and 10-36 in the second half. ‚Ä¶ South Carolina recorded nine blocked shots, with Coates posting four blocks and Ibiam recording three. ‚Ä¶ Hempe had nine points and four rebounds for Georgia and Shacobia Barbee added six points and five rebounds. ‚Ä¶ This is the third time in the last four years the Lady Bulldogs have been eliminated before the SEC semifinals. ‚Ä¶ Donald‚Äôs 13 rebounds was her most since she pulled down 15 against Illinois in late December.