COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The top-ranked Gamecocks throttled Arkansas, 90-64, in the SEC Women’s Tournament semifinal.
The Gamecocks will make their fifth tournament title game appearance in the last six years.
Destanni Henderson came off the bench to tally a career-high 21 points. She dropped 11 in the second quarter alone, and five Gamecocks scored in double figures.
In the opening moments of semifinal showdown, the Gamecocks seemed to settle for trading three's with the Razorbacks.
Three of South Carolina's first five attempts came from beyond the arc. Only Ty Harris connected. Carolina missed six of its first seven shot attempts, as Arkansas managed to build a slim 6-3 lead.
Before the first media timeout, the Gamecocks asserted themselves by pushing the pace and pushing the ball into the paint.
The aggressiveness on offense translated to the defensive side -- and the Gamecocks went on a 13-0 run in a span of more than four minutes.
During the run, South Carolina bothered Arkansas shooters by providing little room to maneuver inside freely. The Razorbacks appeared rushed. They settled for contested shots at the rim and from the three-point line. In a six-plus minute stretch during the opening frame, Arkansas missed eight consecutive field goals and turned it over five times.
Carolina closed the first on a 15-2 run to lead Arkansas by ten points, 18-8.
To begin the second quarter, Carolina picked up where they left off.
Henderson buried a triple from the corner to give the Gamecocks a 23-10 advantage at the 7:43 mark. Arkansas called a timeout to regroup immediately after that basket.
It was an attempt to cool off Carolina that failed. The Gamecocks maintained their track-meet-style pace. Whenever they could, you’d see them fly in transition.
Carolina also found a hot hand on the floor. Henderson scored 11 of her 13 first-half points in the second quarter. She connected on three triples, with her third lifting the Gamecocks to a 36-23 advantage.
But Arkansas did not allow Carolina to feel comfortable with its double-digit lead. The Razorbacks traded a few buckets with the Gamecocks. With 2:17 left to play in the quarter, head coach Dawn Staley had seen enough and called a timeout, with the team up 38-27.
The quick rest allowed the squad to close the half on fire. Henderson found Zia Cooke camped in the corner for three, and she rattled it home with six seconds to spare. The Gamecocks would head to the locker room on an 11-2 run to lead it 48-29.
South Carolina was beating Arkansas at its own game from beyond the arc, with seven made three-pointers compared to Arkansas' five at the half. They finished with 12 made three-pointers for the game.
The Gamecocks dominated in all phases throughout the first 20 minutes. Carolina had 14 fast break points to go along with 16 points in the paint in the first half.
But those opening minutes to begin halves at the SEC tournament this weekend continued to frustrate the Gamecocks.
Arkansas started the third on an 8-0 run, as the Gamecocks missed their first five shot attempts from the field. Eventually, Kiki Herbert Harrigan found the bottom of the bucket on a much-needed putback more than three-and-a-half minutes into the half.
Still, the Razorbacks remained relentless in closing the gap on the scoreboard. A pair of triples and buckets inside propelled Arkansas to an 11-2 run that cut the deficit to a mere eight points with a little more than five minutes to play in the third quarter.
The pro-Gamecock crowd in Greenville loudly encouraged their team on the floor to recapture its flow. Aliyah Boston fed the momentum as she made only her second three-point field goal of the season at 3:18 mark in the third quarter.
It was a big Boston boost that spurred the team to a 12-0 run, to lift the lead back to double-digits to end the frame 67-48.
After the Gamecocks dismissed the Razorback charge, they'd stroll to the final buzzer on the strength of a dominant fourth-quarter effort.
The Gamecocks will face the winner of Mississippi State and Kentucky for the tournament title on Sunday.
South Carolina will seek to win its fifth SEC Tournament championship in the last six seasons.
Destanni Henderson: 21 pts (career-high), 4-9 3pt FG
Aliyah Boston: 13 pts, 13 rebounds
Kiki Herbert Harrigan: 13 pts, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks
Ty Harris: 11 pts, 7 assists
Zia Cooke: 14 points