Showdown looms for South Carolina, LSU at SEC Tournament

South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston takes a selfie photo for fans after South Carolina...
South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston takes a selfie photo for fans after South Carolina defeated Georgia 73-63 in an NCAA college basketball game in Columbia, S.C., Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023.(AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 7:33 PM EST
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(AP) - Another SEC showdown is looming at the league tournament this week between undefeated No. 1 South Carolina and one-loss, No. 4 LSU.

The teams met on Super Bowl Sunday in a highly anticipated game featuring two of the game’s biggest stars in reigning AP player of the year Aliyah Boston for the Gamecocks and the Tigers’ Angel Reese.

South Carolina shut down Reese — it was her only game this season without double figures in both points and rebounds — in an 88-64 victory.

The tournament opens in Greenville, South Carolina, on Wednesday. The top four seeds — South Carolina (29-0), LSU (27-1), No. 3 Tennessee (21-10) and No. 4 Mississippi (22-7) — don’t play until Friday. The semifinals will be Saturday, with the championship and the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bid at stake on Sunday.

The February beatdown by South Carolina left LSU coach Kim Mulkey a bit humbled. “It’s South Carolina, in my opinion,” she said, “and everyone else.”

At the moment, Mulkey has a much more modest goal for tournament play in her second year at LSU.

“I’ve never won an SEC Tournament game as a coach,” said Mulkey, whose team lost its opener a season ago to eventual champion Kentucky. “So our goal is to win one more in the SEC Tournament than we’ve done since this staff has been here.”

The Gamecocks have their own motivation from a year ago. South Carolina was heavily favored to win its seventh tournament crown in eight seasons. Instead, Kentucky rallied from eight points down in the fourth quarter for a 64-62 victory.

The Gamecocks haven’t lost in 35 games since, including a run to the 2022 national title.

South Carolina leading scorer Zia Cooke says that defeat is in the past and there’s no reminders or rallying cry.

“I think what happened last year is what happened last year,” she said. “We’ve moved on.”

Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley, whose team wrapped up its seventh regular-season SEC championship in the past 10 seasons, has seen her team step up to each challenge this year and doesn’t expect that to change.

“I know this team understands the path that’s in front of them,” Staley said. “They stay current with that, so I can only feel good about what they’ve done.”