The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: Gamecocks women’s basketball team advances to SEC Tournament final

South Carolina women’s basketball team secured its spot in the SEC Tournament championship game after defeating Tennessee 67-52 in the semifinal on Saturday night. The Gamecocks will fight to win its sixth SEC Tournament championship in seven seasons as the team faces Georgia on Sunday at 2 p.m.  

“I was impressed with our team. I think our team is growing and learning, I mean it took us probably to lose some basketball games and just our offense stagnant in some games to really understand what we were trying to accomplish,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said after the semifinal victory that avenged her team’s regular season loss to Tennessee

Staley’s team continued its trend of strong first quarter performances in the tournament. After the two teams traded buckets early in the first quarter, it was a one point game until the Gamecocks went on a 19-2 run to end the quarter with a 16-point lead which they didn't relinquish. 

After a defensive second quarter saw the Gamecocks retain a double-digit lead into halftime, the team delivered its second 20-point quarter of the game in the third quarter to stretch the lead and clinch an opportunity to play in yet another championship game.

“Super proud of them, two-thirds of the way done. We want to win another SEC Tournament championship and we put ourselves in this position,” Staley said after the game. 

Junior guard Destanni Henderson, sophomore guard Zia Cooke and sophomore forward Aliyah Boston set the pace on offense and defense throughout the game for South Carolina. 

Henderson finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Cooke provided the scoring punch with 17 points. Boston turned in another all-around performance with 15 points on only eight shots as well as 11 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal.

“I think from the start we were locked in, and we were playing great defense and our offense was moving so I would say that this is pretty much the first game where we played a complete 40,” Boston said.

While the two sides had similar field goal percentages in the semifinal matchup, the Gamecocks held clear advantages in three-point percentage, shooting nearly 44 percent to Tennessee's 14 percent. South Carolina also had more rebounds and assists and finished with seven three-pointers coming from Henderson, Cooke and Boston.

Because the SEC Tournament is held in Greenville, South Carolina, there is regularly a Gamecock-heavy crowd. Despite a reduced and socially distanced attendance, the atmosphere was similar to that of Colonial Life Arena.

“When Tennessee was coming back they were cheering us on, when we were making our run they were just as loud, when Tennessee had to call a timeout because we went on a run they exploded,” said Staley. “I do believe that our players played a little more inspired for longer stretches because we had our fans in the stands.”