South Carolina wins SEC Women's Basketball Championship
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A'ja Wilson had 19 points and 13 rebounds, her 12th double-double of the season, and No. 3 South Carolina beat 16th-ranked Mississippi State 66-52 on Sunday to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament for the second straight year.
Tiffany Mitchell added 19 points and Khadijah Session chipped in 11 for the Gamecocks (31-1), who won their ninth consecutive game since losing to three-time defending national champion and top-ranked Connecticut a month ago.
With former football coach Steve Spurrier cheering from behind the bench, South Carolina became just the fourth team in SEC history to win both regular-season and tournament titles in back-to-back seasons, joining Georgia (1983-84) and Tennessee (1999-2000, 2010-11).
The Gamecocks also joined those same programs as the only ones to go undefeated in league play in the regular season and in the tournament. Georgia did it in 1986. The Lady Vols accomplished the feat in 1994 and 2011.
South Carolina's run was maybe more impressive than the others considering the SEC is poised to send a record nine teams to the NCAA Tournament. The field will be announced March 14.
The Gamecocks are a lock for a No. 1 seed, especially after Sunday's performance.
South Carolina took control late in the second quarter, closing the half with an 11-0 run and taking a 33-21 lead into the break. The Gamecocks did it mostly with defense. Bianca Cuevas picked Morgan William's pocket twice, and William finished with six of Mississippi State's 12 turnovers in the half. The Bulldogs had three turnovers in the final 5:38, aiding South Carolina's decisive run.
Coach Dawn Staley's team pushed the lead to 15 midway through the third quarter, but Victoria Vivians helped the Bulldogs (26-7) whittle it back to 10 in the fourth.
Vivians, who led Mississippi State with 26 points, made a driving layup, two free throws and a running one-hander that helped MSU close to 53-43.
But the Gamecocks responded, with Mitchell making a driving left-handed shot and then finding Wilson on the break for a layup.
A day after scoring 30 in a win against Tennessee, Vivians hit four of her first six shots, including all three from behind the arc, and had 11 of State's first 15 points. But South Carolina started switching things up on her defensively, with double teams and plenty of face-guarding in hopes of disrupting her timing and shots.
Mississippi State: Vivians made the all-tournament team. ... The Bulldogs have lost eight in a row against South Carolina. ... They were making their second appearance in the SEC title game and first since losing to Tennessee in 2000. ... Mississippi State has 52 wins the last two years, second in the league to South Carolina.
South Carolina: Mitchell and Wilson made the all-tournament team, with Mitchell earning MVP honors. ... This was just the program's second SEC tournament title game appearance. ... The Gamecocks won their three games in the SEC Tournament by a combined 53 points. ... They outscored Mississippi State 36-14 in the paint.
Mississippi State awaits it NCAA Tournament seeding and pairing.
South Carolina awaits it NCAA Tournament seeding and pairing.