Wilson leads No. 5 South Carolina past No. 4 Bulldogs (Jan 23, 2017)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was proud to take part in a showcase game with Mississippi State. She wouldn't be surprised to see one just like it on a much bigger stage in a few months.
A'ja Wilson tied her season high with 26 points and the fifth-ranked Gamecocks held off previously undefeated No. 4 Mississippi 64-61 in a Southeastern Conference showdown Monday night.
''It was a great game for the SEC. A great game for women's basketball,'' Staley said. ''Two teams fighting it out.''
And she thinks it's very possible to see a rematch at the Final Four. Earlier Monday, the NCAA Tournament selection committee projected both the Gamecocks and Bulldogs as No. 1 seeds, slotted at No. 3 and No. 4 overall among the 16 teams picked.
''I hope I see you in Dallas and we talk about that,'' Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said.
Nothing in this one dimmed either team's hopes of going that far.
It was a game filled with dramatic turns and stellar plays. The Gamecocks just made most of them down the stretch.
Allisha Gray had 16 of her 17 points in the final two quarters to fuel the comeback for South Carolina (17-1, 7-0 SEC), who trailed 35-28 at halftime and down 48-46 late in the third quarter. It was the ninth straight win over the Bulldogs (20-1, 6-1) who ceded control of the conference to three-time defending champion South Carolina.
Mississippi State had several chances to win. Victoria Vivians could've tied the game at 62 after getting fouled on a 3-pointer with 18.6 seconds left. But after hitting the first two free throws, Vivians' final attempt rattled away and the ball went out of bounds off the Gamecocks.
Blair Schaefer's 3-pointer from the right corner with 8 seconds left missed the mark. Again, the ball came up Mississippi State's way on a tie up beneath the basket. But Vivians missed a short shot with 4 seconds left, Wilson collected the rebound and hit two foul shots for the final margin.
''It was a clean shot,'' Vivians said of her final miss.
Breanna Richardson and Vivians each had 12 points to lead the Bulldogs.
''It was just a great feeling,'' said Wilson, who added nine rebounds and three blocks in her second game back after missing two contests with a right ankle sprain. ''We really stepped up to the plate.''
THE BIG PICTURE
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs used their own power post duo to gain control of things early. Six-foot-5 Chinwe Okorie had seven rebounds, five of them offensive, in the first minutes against South Carolina's vaunted post pair of 6-5 Wilson and 6-4 Coates. When Okorie had to take a seat with two fouls, 6-7 sophomore backup Teaira McCowan gave the Gamecocks fits with her athletic play as she made all four of her shots.
Okorie and McCowan both fouled out with nearly four minutes left, opening the way for South Carolina's post players to dig in.
South Carolina: Maybe the Gamecocks have too much of a belief in their own ultimate success. How else to explain their sluggish showing at the start of the game (they fell behind 7-0 and 14-7) and at the end of the second quarter (Mississippi State outscored them 15-8 over the final seven minutes before the break? South Carolina, which came in averaging 13 turnovers a game, had 11 in the first two quarters to fall behind at halftime for just the second time this year. In the other, Duke finished the 74-63 upset for what had been South Carolina's only loss. The Gamecocks tightened things up down the stretch with just three second-half turnovers in rallying past Mississippi State.
Schafer said his team was hurting, but not about to give up on the season. The loss is something they can learn and build on since they gave maximum effort. ''They just made one more play than we did,'' he said.
This was the only meeting between the teams in the regular season, giving South Carolina a big advantage in the quest for a regular season SEC title.
Kaela Davis had just four points for South Carolina on 1-of-9 shooting, but she spent the second half guarding Vivians on defense and holding Mississippi State's leading scorer to 2-of-11 shooting the final two quarters. ''We didn't give it to her, she took it,'' Staley said of the assignment. ''It helped us tonight.''
Mississippi State returns home to play Texas A&M on Sunday.
South Carolina goes to Georgia on Thursday night.
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