COLUMBIA, S.C. (USC SID) – No. 2/2 South Carolina mounted a fourth-quarter rally, but it was not enough to overcome tough shooting in the first quarter of each half as the Gamecocks fell to No. 1/1 UConn 66-54 Monday night in front of a sold-out Colonial Life Arena. South Carolina (22-1, 10-0 SEC) senior forward Sarah Imovbioh tallied 13 point and eight rebounds, largely in the second half, and the Gamecock defense held the Huskies (23-0, 12-0 AA) to their lowest scoring and field goal percentage of the season.
South Carolina suffered a slow offensive start that allowed UConn to build a double-digit lead early in the second quarter. The Gamecocks headed into halftime with a 10-point deficit after playing without A’ja Wilson for the final four minutes of the third quarter due to injury. The Huskies extended their lead in the third quarter with Wilson still out of the game, but her return late in the period got the South Carolina offense back on track. In just 23 minutes, she matched Imovbioh’s 13 points for team-high honors and added six rebounds.
UConn jumped out to a 4-0 advantage one minute into the contest before a jumper by Wilson and a layup by junior center Alaina Coates evened the game with 8:13 left in the period. South Carolina struggled on the offensive end over the next few minutes, missing five-straight shots, and an 8-0 run gave the Huskies a 12-4 lead. Mitchell cut the deficit to 14-8 after converting a jumper in the paint for the Gamecocks, who shot just 33.3 percent from the floor in the first 10 minutes and headed to the second period trailing, 17-8.
Imovbioh’s three-point play midway through the quarter awoke the Gamecock offense and marked the beginning of a 6-0 run that cut UConn’s lead to single digits. Mitchell converted a 3-pointer on South Carolina’s next trip down the floor to make it 30-21, and a layup by guard Khadijah Sessions two minutes later kept the Gamecocks within 10. Wilson provided much of the scoring for South Carolina in the first half, connecting on each of her first four field goal attempts of the night. UConn took a 35-25 lead into the locker room behind double-digit point totals from Jefferson and Stewart.
Mitchell scored each of South Carolina’s first four points in the second half, but the Gamecocks saw the UConn lead extended to 44-29 after forward Morgan Tuck tallied her sixth point of the period on a layup. Tuck’s third field goal of the half gave the Huskies their largest lead of the night at 51-31 with 2:42 left in the period, and South Carolina went to the final quarter facing a 54-33 deficit. Imovbioh continued to provide tough minutes for South Carolina, as the senior chipped in four points and five rebounds in the third period.
The Gamecocks scored seven of the fourth quarter’s first eight points to cut the UConn lead to 55-40, and it was Imovbioh who once again sparked the scoring run, tallying back-to-back field goals early in the period. UConn responded with four-straight points before 3-pointers from Mitchell and guard Doniyah Cliney put South Carolina within 14 points of the lead. The Gamecocks were unable to cut the deficit to single digits, as UConn maintained its advantage over the final two minutes.
UConn’s Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 25, while Tuck and Jefferson combined for 10 field goals and 28 points. UConn shot just 42.1 percent from the floor but knocked down six 3-pointers compared to just three for the Gamecocks. Both teams finished with 35 rebounds and 30 points in the paint.
Head Coach Dawn Staley
On senior forward Sarah Imovbioh’s performance
“It was a great confidence booster for her and for us. We need her to have those kinds of performances in order for us to keep competing at a high level. We look forward to her having follow-up performances like that.”
After South Carolina cut the UConn lead to 13 early in the third quarter, the Huskies responded with a 7-0 run to push their advantage to 51-31 with 2:42 left in the period.
UConn sported a 10-0 advantage in fast-break points in the win. The Gamecocks entered Monday with double-digit fast-break points in each of their previous four games.
• Monday’s loss snapped South Carolina’s nation-best 45-game home winning streak.
• UConn’s 66 points and 42.1 shooting percentage both marked season lows for the Huskies.
• Senior forward Sarah Imovbioh’s 13 points were the most since scoring a season-high 19 against Hampton (Dec. 16).
• South Carolina boasted a 23-5 advantage in bench points. Four Gamecocks tallied a field goal off the bench.
South Carolina concludes its three-game homestand on Thu., Feb. 11, when it hosts No. 16/22 Florida at Colonial Life Arena. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m., and the contest can be seen on SEC Network+.