How to watch, what to watch for as Gamecocks go for another SEC tournament title

Greg Hadley
·4 min read

The South Carolina women’s basketball team is back in the SEC championship, taking down Tennessee in the semifinals on Saturday night. Here’s the essential information you need to watch for in Sunday’s title game.

SEC TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP

Who: No. 2 seed South Carolina (21-4, 14-2) vs. No. 4 seed Georgia (20-5, 10-5)

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville

Watch: ESPN2

WHAT’S AT STAKE

South Carolina is going for its sixth SEC tournament title in seven seasons, a stretch of dominance not matched even by the conference’s historic heavyweight, Tennessee — the Lady Vols never won more than five championships in any seven-year stretch.

A victory would also likely secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the Gamecocks, especially after Texas A&M, who was projected to be one, lost in the semifinals to Georgia.

For Georgia, Sunday will mark the first SEC title game the Lady Bulldogs have played in since 2004. They haven’t won the championship since 2001.

3 KEYS TO WATCH

1. Can the Gamecock defense stay strong?

Against Tennessee in the semis, South Carolina’s defense was pesky, active and effective, holding All-SEC players Rennia Davis and Rae Burrell to single figures in points and forcing 18 Lady Vols turnovers. Six different players recorded steals and three got blocks.

“I like the grit that we played with (Saturday),” coach Dawn Staley said after beating Tennessee. “Just defensively, I thought we were just engaged throughout the entire night. We made it very difficult for them to score. When they got easy opportunities, they bobbled the ball. That was probably just over the course of 40 minutes with them having to play and fight tooth and nail to get a basket.”

Georgia, meanwhile, enters Sunday’s championship on a tear, leading the tournament in points per game and 3-point percentage. The Lady Bulldogs took down a solid pair of opponents in Kentucky and Texas A&M and did so with a balanced attack — four different players scored in double figures in both their games.

Perhaps the biggest matchup will be that between USC star sophomore forward Aliyah Boston and Georgia center Jenna Staiti. Staiti leads the Bulldogs at 14.7 points per game and has 33 in two games this tourney. UGA coach Joni Taylor cited her extended playin time against the top-seeded Aggies as perhaps the biggest difference-maker, as she played 35 minutes, avoided foul trouble entirely and had a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“Jenna is a great player. I’m really excited for that. Just ready to play against her,” Boston said after the Tennessee win.

2. Will another hot start be enough?

In both of their tournament games leading up to Sunday’s title match, South Carolina has gotten huge first quarters, then held on. In both cases, the Gamecocks were actually outscored over the final three quarters.

“I like some of the things that we’re doing offensively, getting off to a fast start,” Staley said. “I thought we got good looks at the basket. Again, we just didn’t finish layups. If we finished layups, I thought we, could have won by a lot more than we did.”

Indeed, South Carolina finished Saturday’s contest just 13 of 33 on layups. It’s been an issue that’s plagued the Gamecocks all season, and while a crisp start and solid defense have been enough to survive thus far, better offensive execution over the final 30 minutes would make things a whole lot easier.

3. Will fatigue play a factor?

The Gamecocks enter Sunday’s contest having played three major games in the past week: the regular season finale at Texas A&M, plus the quarterfinals and semis. In all three games, USC’s major players — Boston, sophomore guard Zia Cooke and junior guard Destanni Henderson — have played at least 32 minutes. And Saturday’s contest with Tennessee was a particularly physical one, with bodies hitting the ground regularly and lots of contact inside.

South Carolina will have less than 18 hours from the end of Saturday’s contest to recuperate and come back for the final.

“It’s out of my hands at this point. It is our medical staff and our conditioning coach,” Staley said. “They take over from after the game until we get ready to warm up on the floor. A lot of rest, a lot of cold baths, refueling. Got to get back to the hotel and get some dinner in. We’ll probably just get back with our players tomorrow morning to talk about ... the game plan for beating Georgia tomorrow.”