Gamecocks suffer stunning loss in SEC title game

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley watches the action in the first half of the NCAA women's...
South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley watches the action in the first half of the NCAA women's college basketball Southeastern Conference tournament championship game against Kentucky Sunday, March 6, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)(Mark Humphrey | AP)
Published: Mar. 6, 2022 at 4:16 PM EST
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NASHVILLE, T.N. (WIS) - The Gamecocks fold in the fourth quarter to let the crown slip away.  Kentucky closed the championship Sunday on an 11-0 run to stun top-ranked South Carolina, 64-62, to win its first SEC Tournament title in 40 years.

The Wildcats Dre’una Edwards was given space at the top of the key, trailing by one, and dropped the go-ahead triple with four seconds to play.

The Gamecocks did not have a timeout, as Destanni Henderson moved up the floor and tossed a mid-court shot that missed the mark.  Carolina closed the game missing its final seven shots, without scoring a single point in the final 5:04 of regulation.

Gamecock fans were certainly not expecting to sing the blues in the Music City against Big Blue.

Zia Cooke missed a pair of free throws with the Gamecocks up 62-61 with 16 seconds left.  The Wildcats grabbed the defensive rebound and moved the ball quickly up the court.  Boston fouled with 11 seconds to pause the action, with Kentucky calling a timeout to set up that game-winning shot for Edwards.

Aliyah Boston and Cooke came out with a purpose to set the tone in the championship game.    Boston connected on her first three shots.    The last was a powerful move inside for the hoop and the harm.    It gave the Gamecocks a 10-7 lead at the 6:56 mark in the first quarter.

Cooke’s confidence was on full display in the Music City as she dropped in her first two three-point attempts.    Then her ability to slash through traffic to the tin for the bucket lifted Carolina to a 15-9 lead less than five minutes in.

Boston and Cooke combined to score the Gamecocks’ first 17 points.

Late in the first frame, Carolina’s inability to find another scorer hurt the offense.    The Gamecocks went on a two-minute scoring drought before Laeticia Amihere came off the bench to spark the squad.    Her layup with a 1:10 on the clock put the Gamecocks back in front, 19-18.

Carolina began the second quarter with Cooke and Boston on the bench.    Although the offense waned, the defense maintained.    Kentucky could not figure out a way to attack Carolina with Amihere and Kamilla Cardoso on the floor.    The Wildcats turned it over three times and missed all six shot attempts in the first five minutes of the second quarter.

Boston and Cooke both returned to the floor around the six-minute mark.    And then, soon after, Cooke dropped in her third triple of the game to make it 26-18 with 5:03 left, forcing the Wildcats to call a timeout.

Cooke and Boston were on their game on championship Sunday, each scoring 11 first-half points.

The Gamecock offense was relatively pedestrian in the second quarter, even with a pair of brilliant efforts.  South Carolina turned it over six times in the second while connecting on just 25% of its field goal attempts.

After the opening half, the struggles allowed the Wildcats to keep it close, 30-21.  And this was with Kentucky making one shot, scoring three total points, in the second quarter.

After being held scoreless in the first, Coach Staley wanted to get star guard Destanni Henderson going in the second half.  Henderson was left alone in the corner on a second chance opportunity, and she connected from distance at the 6:58 mark in the third quarter.  The triple extended the Gamecocks’ lead to 11 points.

Despite Kentucky’s best effort to keep pace, the Gamecocks created separation as Boston drove nearly the length of the floor for the hoop through contact.  With 30 seconds to spare, Boston’s bucket gave Carolina a 55-43 advantage.

Boston crashed the glass for the putback early in the fourth quarter while being fouled to collect her 24th-straight double-double.  The three-point play boosted the Gamecock lead to 14 points.

During a three-plus minute scoring drought, Kentucky made a 7-0 run with the Gamecocks struggling.  Dre’una Edwards’ triple capped it off at the 6:16 mark to cut the deficit, 57-50.

Henderson snapped the drought with her third three-pointer made on the day with 6:05 left in the game, which gave the Gamecocks a ten-point cushion.

Another scoring drought allowed the Wildcats to roar back.  The Gamecocks went nearly five minutes at this point without a made basket.  Kentucky kept charging back, and with 1:13 to play, Edwards’ layup made it a one-point ball game.

Edwards scored Kentucky’s final seven points to lift them past the Gamecocks.  She scored a game-high 27 points.

Boston finished the game with 21 points and 11 rebounds.  Cooke scored 15 points.

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