NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The South Carolina Gamecocks are right where they wanted to be with a chance to three-peat as champs of the Southeastern Conference women's tournament.
Aliyah Boston posted her 23rd consecutive double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds as top-ranked South Carolina beat Mississippi 61-51 on Saturday in the SEC semifinals.
“It's really exciting,” Boston said. “This is one of our goals we set at the beginning of the year and now it's here.”
The Gamecocks (29-1) won their 17th straight to reach their seventh tournament championship game in eight seasons. They will play seventh-seeded Kentucky on Sunday looking for South Carolina's seventh title in eight seasons.
South Carolina improved to 7-2 in the semifinals by using its size and length to smother Ole Miss for the third time this season in showdowns between the SEC's top two scoring defenses. The Gamecocks lead the SEC allowing 51.2 points, and they held the Rebels to 30 points through three quarters.
Ole Miss (23-8) tried to rally, scoring 20 of the first 25 points in the fourth to get within 58-50 on Shakira Austin's three-point play with 1:40 left. That was the last bucket the Rebels would make as South Carolina clinched their latest berth in the title game despite missing all five shots in the quarter.
“We just lost the momentum,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “When you're playing a caliber game like we're playing, it’s hard. The swing of the momentum is hard to get back once you've had it."
Boston, the two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year, also had three blocks and three steals.
This was the first time in the semifinals for Ole Miss (23-8) since 1993 who last played in the tournament championship in 1983. Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin had a simple reminder for her Rebels that helped get them going late.
“No one thought we were going to beat South Carolina anyway, but we need to perform,” McPhee-McCuin said of her message. “We need to look like an NCAA Tournament team, so we can't quit.”
Angel Baker led the Reels with 20 points. Austin finished with 11 of her 16 in the fourth.
This was a rematch of the regular season finale that South Carolina won in Oxford last weekend. The Rebels scored the first four points of this game, and Madison Scott blocked a shot by South Carolina guard Zia Cooke for a strong start by Ole Miss.
Victaria Saxton got a steal and finished of a slow-motion breakaway with a layup that tied it at 4. Boston scored the next four, and South Carolina led 14-8 after the first quarter. Baker scored 10 in the second to keep Ole Miss close, though the Gamecocks led 33-22 at halftime.
South Carolina outscored the Rebels 20-8 for a 53-30 lead going into the fourth where Ole Miss made it very interesting until the final 90 seconds.
The Gamecocks outrebounded Ole Miss 44-28, only the second time in the last six games they didn't have an edge of 20 or more on the boards. Both came against the Rebels. The dominance inside helped South Carolina to a 19-4 edge in second-chance points.
Austin is Ole Miss' tallest player at 6-foot-5 and the Rebel taller than 6-2. Compare that to South Carolina with four Gamecocks 6-3 or taller led Boston with 6-7 Kamilla Cardoso coming off the bench. The Gamecocks harassed Austin into 2-of-9 shooting in the first half.
The Ole Miss center scored 27 in Ole Miss' win over No. 23 Florida in the quarterfinals. She wound up 6 of 17 in this game.
“We just wanted to make it difficult for her the entire night, make sure she felt us every time she touched the ball,” Boston said.
“It's just the ones that haven't been here before they don't understand how hard it is because ... it's like trust babies. They're born into money,” Staley said of her younger Gamecocks.
Ole Miss now gets to wait to learn its seed in the NCAA Tournament.
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