DULUTH, Ga. — It’s not every year that South Carolina arrives at the Southeastern Conference Tournament as the favorite.
Junior center Elem Ibiam says coach Dawn Staley and her staff have kept the No. 5 Gamecocks focused after leading the school to its first regular-season title.
“Our coaches always tell us not to get too high or too low,” Ibiam said. “That keeps us balanced and focused on the next team, at the task at hand.”
Alaina Coates scored 13 points, Ibiam added 12 points and South Carolina took an easy 67-48 victory over Georgia in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament on Friday.
The top-seeded Gamecocks (27-3) advanced to the tournament semifinals for the second time in three years.
Before 2011, South Carolina had never played past the quarterfinals.
SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell finished with 11 points for South Carolina, which led the entire game.
South Carolina filled Georgia’s passing lanes, ran through screens to pressure the perimeter and essentially never gave the ninth-seeded Lady Bulldogs (20-11) much of a chance.
The Gamecocks were particularly efficient at getting their offense in transition, scoring often and easily as Georgia failed to defend in a timely fashion. “It had nothing to do with size advantage or any of the other things that impress you about South Carolina,” Georgia coach Andy Landers said.
“It was about transitioning, get back on defense, get under the ball, get it stopped, know where their shooters are. We didn’t know where Mitchell was the first 10 minutes of the game, and she got 25 on us last time.”
Erika Ford, with 10 points, was the only Georgia player in double figures.
Krista Donald pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds.
Tina Roy's putback gave the Gamecocks their first double-digit lead midway through the first half. They were up by 17 at halftime and 25 after Asia Dozier's layup with 16:43 remaining.
Georgia missed 33 of its first 42 shots and was nearly 40 percentage points worse from the field than the Gamecocks when Tiara Griffin's 3-point attempt fell short at the 13:08 mark.
Ibiam's layup at the 10:04 mark gave South Carolina its biggest lead at 27. Coates, the SEC freshman of the year, combined with Aleighsa Welch for 17 rebounds. Welch finished with a nine boards.
South Carolina's thorough performance looked like a team trying to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee and earn a No. 1 seed. The Gamecocks, who won their first SEC regular season title last week with a victory over Georgia in Columbia, S.C., improved to 77-21 over the last three seasons.
"I think that was very important for us to just establish ourselves early in the paint," Ibiam said. "Whenever we're not on our guards, they're there for us. For us to be there for our guards, be a cushion, bring some confidence out to the perimeter. It was a good feeling. I think that's what happened today."
Added Coates, "It's a confidence-booster when your bigs have your back."