- Associated Press - Saturday, March 5, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Tiffany Mitchell sank her fourth and final 3-pointer, looked to the South Carolina bench and then shimmied.

Coach Dawn Staley may have wanted to do the same. After all, it surely was a moment worth celebrating.

Mitchell scored 20 points, leading five Gamecocks in double figures, and third-ranked South Carolina handled No. 13 Kentucky 93-63 in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference women’s tournament Saturday.

A day after the Gamecocks turned in their worst offensive performance of the season, Staley’s team delivered one of its best.

This one helped the top-seeded Gamecocks (30-1) advance to their second straight SEC title game. They will face No. 16 Mississippi State in the championship game Sunday.

If South Carolina plays like it did against the Wildcats (23-7), it could be hoisting another trophy.

“I want to bottle it up and take it into (Sunday) night’s championship game,” Staley said.

The Gamecocks opened up a double-digit lead in the first quarter, used an 11-0 run early in the third to make it a 20-point game and then turned it into a laugher with a barrage of 3-pointers in the fourth.

Bianca Cuevas hit consecutive treys, Mitchell sank her fourth of the game and then Tina Roy added another in a two-minute span that put South Carolina up 77-50 with 6:40 remaining and started the celebration.

“I mean, it just felt good,” Mitchell said. “It felt right at the moment. I was feeling good. Our team was up. We were all just hyped. The whole entire game was very emotional. It’s not really uncharacteristic of me. I just don’t do it a lot. But this game we were just feeling great, so I just let it go.”

Mitchell made 8 of 16 shots, including 4 of 8 from behind the arc, and finished with her sixth 20-plus-point performance of the season.

SEC player of the year A’ja Wilson (18 points), Cuevas (15), Alaina Coates (13) and Khadijah Sessions (10) also reached double figures for South Carolina. Coates added 10 rebounds for her 17th double-double of the season and third in the last four games.

The Gamecocks made 11 of 13 shots in the fourth quarter.

“When you’re playing well, things are going right for us,” Mitchell said. “That’s what happened this game. Things were falling into place for us. We could have tried to shoot with our eyes closed and it probably would have went in. I know (coach) wouldn’t have let us shoot with our eyes closed. But if we tried it, we probably would have made it this game.”

The Gamecocks shot a season-low 31 percent and made a season-low 16 baskets in a nine-point victory against Auburn on Friday. They responded better than even Staley could have hoped against the league’s hottest team.

Kentucky had won eight in a row, with its last lost coming against South Carolina. Now, the Gamecocks have beaten the Wildcats in Lexington, in Columbia and in Jacksonville.

Makayla Epps led fifth-seeded Kentucky with 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

“I’m sure we’ll look at the tape and there will be plenty of moments where we didn’t play as well as we needed to,” Cats coach Matthew Mitchell said. “We needed to play really well to win a game like that.”


Wilson crashed hard to the floor following a foul with 7:11 remaining in the third quarter and was slow to get up and make her way to the bench. She iced her left hip and returned a few minutes later. She made 8 of 12 shots and added six rebounds, four blocks and two assists.


Kentucky: Has lost six of eight in the series. … Shot 44.6 percent, but couldn’t overcome 19 turnovers and South Carolina’s 52.9 percent shooting and 12 3-pointers.

South Carolina: Beat Kentucky on a neutral court for the first time in program history. Had lost the first four matchups. … Gamecocks dance team had an awkward moment at halftime when it lined up on the court and had to wait several minutes for someone to find the correct music track.


Kentucky awaits its NCAA Tournament seeding and pairing.

South Carolina plays Mississippi State in the SEC final.

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