COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – No. 9 South Carolina and No. 11 Missouri shook hands before the starting lineups were introduced. The pleasantries ended after that.
A’ja Wilson had 15 points, hitting the go-ahead basket with 4:13 left, and Gamecocks outlasted the Tigers 64-54 on Sunday night in a hard-fought game that included an on-court tussle and two Missouri ejections.
The bad feelings were stirred from a game three weeks ago at Missouri where Wilson fouled out and South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was ejected for arguing about the Tigers’ physical play. Things boiled over once more in the second quarter when Missouri’s Kayla
Michael and South Carolina’s Alexis Jennings fought for a rebound and crashed hard to the floor. Players from both sides ran in as shoving and bumping took play. Missouri reserves Jordan Roundtree and Nadia Green were ejected for coming off the bench to join the scrum.
”Emotions, passion, I thought it was a battle,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. ”That was a tough one.”
And it came down to the final few minutes.
The Gamecocks (18-3, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) saw their 48-41, fourth-quarter lead evaporate after Amber Smith’s two straight buckets to tie the game at 49-all. That’s when South Carolina’s All-American in Wilson rebounded a miss by teammate LeLe Grissett and put it right back up to move the Gamecocks back on top.
Jennings, who had missed her first four shots, then followed with back-to-back baskets as South Carolina built a 57-49 lead in the final minute. The Tigers (17-4, 5-3) could not respond and the Gamecocks got a measure of revenge from their Missouri loss.
The crowd of more than 13,000 rarely let the Tigers forget their anger about that defeat. They booed Tigers star Sophie Cunningham nearly every time she touched the ball. The Missouri junior found her way into the tussle, first getting shoved by South Carolina’s Doniyah Cliney, then bumping Jennings hard were her shoulder as she walked off the court.
Officials took about 15 minutes looking at video of the altercation. Cunningham and Cliney were assessed unsportsmanlike fouls.
Cunningham led Missouri with 18 points and eight rebounds.
Missouri did not make players available to the media.
Wilson said the Gamecocks treated this game like every other one. Staley said her players studied film of their last two matchups – both
Missouri wins – and knew they’d take some shots. ”They just don’t want to go into a game unprotected,” Staley said. ”Our first thing is making sure everyone’s OK.”
Cunningham kept grinding to the end, even sending Wilson a reminder of what might be ahead in the league tournament as the Missouri player bumped her on the way into the locker room after the final buzzer.
”It’s all love and game,” Wilson said, smiling.
Tyasha Harris had 19 points for South Carolina, which won its fourth straight, while Wilson had a game-best 15 rebounds for her 13th game with double figure points and rebounds this season. The two-time defending SEC player of the year also had four blocks.
QUOTABLE DAWN STALEY
On the play of Tyasha Harris Sunday
“I mean that is what great players do. When there is a player down they step up, and [Tyasha] is no different. I had no worries that she would not step up today and score points for us. It’s just that she needed some help, but I think that she understands that she has to keep her game honest. Twenty one shots isn’t her comfort zone – but she took her open shots, and that is only going to help her get even better.”
• The Gamecocks improved to 3-0 at home against Missouri with the victory. All three wins have come by double-digits.
• For the first time this season, Carolina won a game despite not being out-scored in the paint as Mizzou won that battle 26-18.
• Sunday marked the fifth time this season Carolina senior forward A’ja Wilson finished a game with at least 15 points and 15 rebounds.
• Gamecock junior Alexis Jennings scored all seven of her points during a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, shooting 2-of-3 from the field and 3-of-4 from the line. She also added two steals in the final period.
Paced by their defense, the Gamecocks closed the game on a 15-5 run en route to the double-digit victory. Missouri missed eight of its final nine shots of the game, while Carolina ended a 49-49 tie with 4:32 to play with 3-of-4 shooting over the ensuing two minutes.
Carolina’s effort on the defensive end led offense the other way, as the Gamecocks totaled 21 points off 13 Missouri turnovers. The Tigers managed just six points off turnovers Sunday.
Carolina concludes its three-game homestand on Thu., Feb. 1, when it hosts No. 1/1 UConn. Tipoff from Colonial Life Arena is slated for 7 p.m. ET, and the contest will air on ESPN.