No. 1 South Carolina advances to semis
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- South Carolina hadn't struggled like this offensively all season. Not on the road. Not versus ranked teams. Not even against three-time defending national champion UConn.
Good thing for the No. 3 Gamecocks they could rely on their defense.
Alaina Coates had 14 points and 12 rebounds, her 16th double-double of the season, and South Carolina used another solid defensive effort to beat Auburn 57-48 in the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday.
"You have to feel good about your performances," Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said. "You want to try to correct the things that we didn't do so well in a short turnaround. Knowing our team, they understand what took place out there.
"From a defensive standpoint, I like what we're doing. It's been a stable force over the past couple of games in which, you know, it's been hard for our offense to get going."
The top-seeded Gamecocks (29-1) won their seventh straight since losing to the top-ranked Huskies and advanced to the SEC semifinals for the third consecutive year. They will face either No. 13 Kentucky or 25th-ranked Florida on Saturday.
No. 9 seed Auburn (19-12) posed little resistance despite keeping the game close for a quarter and a half.
Brandy Montgomery led the Tigers with 18 points on 8-of-19 shooting. She missed her first seven shots and was just 1 for 9 before getting on track.
"Coach was just telling me to calm down, relax," Montgomery said. "I got open looks. I just need to knock down the shot. I didn't want it to discourage me, the fact I was missing my shots. I just wanted to make sure I calmed down."
South Carolina shot a season-low 31.4 percent from the field and had a season-low 16 baskets. But the Gamecocks overwhelmed the Tigers with their size and length, pounding the ball inside, creating easy baskets and getting Auburn in foul trouble.
The Gamecocks used a 9-0 run in the first quarter to go ahead for good and then turned a close game into a rout with a dominating second quarter. They outscored Auburn 19-5 in the second frame and without SEC player of the year A'ja Wilson doing much on the offensive end.
Wilson finished with eight points and eight rebounds.
"Our offense has to find a way to find some fluidity, have our posts and perimeter sync up a little bit better," Staley said.
Auburn won't know its postseason fate until March 14, but coach Terri Williams-Flournoy believes a nine-point loss to South Carolina should boost the team's chances. "We're a very good defensive team that deserves to show what a great defensive team we are in the NCAA Tournament," she said. "Our resume for what type of team we are is good going into the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, somebody else will see that and give us that chance."
Auburn's second-leading scorer, Katie Frerking, injured her left knee early in the third quarter and was helped off the floor. She returned in the fourth, but was clearly hobbling up and down the court. She was 2-of-11 shooting and missed all six from 3-point range.
Auburn: Lost five in a row in the series. ... Lost for the first time in five games on neutral courts this season. ... Managed just four points from its bench.
South Carolina: Scored its fewest points against a non-ranked team since January 2014 against Arkansas. ... Improved to 4-0 this season on neutral courts. ... League commissioner Greg Sankey presented the team the 2016 SEC regular-season trophy before the game.
Auburn: Plays in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.
South Carolina: Plays either No. 13 Kentucky or No. 25 Florida in the SEC tournament semifinals Saturday.