One year ago, USC suffered its last loss, dropping the SEC Tournament final in a shocker against Kentucky.
In 2023, the Gamecocks made sure that would not happen again.
Top-ranked South Carolina (32-0) defeated the Tennessee Lady Volunteers (23-11) Sunday afternoon by the score of 74-58 to claim the SEC Tournament title, the school’s first since 2021 and 7th since 2015. It is also South Carolina’s 38th straight victory, a school record.
Fittingly, the two star seniors – Zia Cooke and Aliyah Boston – in their final SEC Tournament were the ones that led the charge for the Gamecocks.
Boston got off to a hot start, hitting each of her first five shots and scoring 10 in a tight first quarter that saw the Cocks lead 21-19 through one.
Cooke then picked up where Boston left off, scoring 12 of the team’s 16 second quarter points while missing only one of her five shots en route to a 37-31 lead at the half.
Tennessee’s Jordan Horston was a big reason for the game staying as close as it was, contributing 14 through the first two quarters on 7-of-13 shooting.
Things started getting away from the Lady Vols in the third thanks largely to a 16-4 Gamecock run capped off by a three-point shot from Bree Hall, which was able to extend the lead to 15. Horston also cooled down a bit in the quarter, failing to make any of her three shot attempts.
Kamilla Cardoso was the closer down the stretch, not necessarily due to hitting her shots but by getting to the line, draining seven of eight from the charity stripe in the final act.
While Cooke had a slow fourth quarter, making only one shot out of six, she was able to supply the dagger for the Cocks, which came in the form of a three pointer with 3:13 to play to extend the Gamecock lead from 14 to 17 after Tennessee was starting to string together some buckets.
Despite Tennessee hitting only three fewer shots, an equal amount of threes, grabbing only six fewer boards and having only two fewer second chance points – which sounds like it would have been the blueprint to success prior to the game – the difference in this one, as I briefly brought up earlier, was free throws.
South Carolina may not have ran the paint on paper, but they were aggressive and succeeded in getting to the line, converting on 20 of the team’s 24 free throws.
Regardless, the stars in this one for USC were Cooke, Boston and Cardoso, who finished with 24, 18 and 13 points respectively.
Without a loss to the school’s name this season, South Carolina is expected to earn the top overall seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament as the team looks to go back-to-back, and their path to another chip will be revealed in a week on Selection Sunday.