COLUMBIA, S.C. — In a matchup of the nation’s final two unbeaten teams, No. 3 LSU (23-1, 11-1 SEC) fell behind early to No. 1 South Carolina (25-0, 12-0 SEC) and the Tigers punched back, but ultimately South Carolina pulled away Sunday in a sold-out Colonial Life Arena, 88-64.
It marked South Carolina’s 31st consecutive win as the Tigers 23-game win streak came to an end. After falling behind quickly in the first quarter, 18-2, LSU clawed to get back in the game to bring the score within three points halfway through the second quarter. South Carolina prevented LSU from ever gaining a lead, eventually pulling away from the Tigers.
“I’ll give my utmost respect and comments about how good they are, how big they are, how tall they are,” Coach Kim Mulkey said. “It’s South Carolina (at the top) in my opinion and everyone else and after playing them today my opinion on that has not changed. They have things that we don’t have and a lot of the teams in the country don’t have. We aspire to be there one day.”
Alexis Morris led LSU with 23 points and 6 rebounds as her 15 first half points kept the Tigers in the contest. Morris was 4-5 in the second quarter and finished the afternoon shooting 38-percent from the field. Angel Reese was held for the first time this season without a double-double, ending her LSU record 23-game streak. She had 16 points and 4 rebounds.
LSU battled foul trouble early as both LaDazhia Williams and Flau’jae Johnson picked up two early fouls and were limited because of it. Sa’Myah Smith came in off the bench and played well as the freshman finished with 7 points, 6 rebounds and a block.
Kamilla Cardoso came off the bench to earn her sixth double-double of the season with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Cardoso stands at 6’7” and used her size in the post to go 5-7 from the field.
South Carolina had five players in double figures. ZiaCooke had 17, Brea Beal scored 11, and Raven Johnson had 10. The reigning national player of the year, Aliyah Boston, scored 14 points and hauled in 9 boards.
South Carolina won the battle on the boards, out rebounding the Tigers, 43-25. The Gamecocks also had five players finish scoring in double-figures and got contributions up and down their bench. With 46 bench points, South Carolina got over half of its offensive production coming from its non-starters.
“This is just one game,” Coach Mulkey explained. “There are goals we have, and we’ve got to take tomorrow off and get ready for Ole Miss. Be thankful that LSU was on this stage. Who in the world would have thought that we would be on this stage in year two of rebuilding the program?”
The Tigers will be back inside the PMAC later this week as they host Ole Miss on Thursday in the annual “Play4Kay” Pink Out Game. Tip-Off is slated for 8 p.m. CT and will be live on the SEC Network.
Just over a minute into Sunday’s contest coach Mulkey was forced to call a timeout after South Carolina opened up with a 6-0 run, 3-3 all from inside the paint. South Carolina responded with 12 unanswered points as the Gamecocks shot 80-percent (8-10) from the field to open the quarter. The Tigers settled down and made it a 10-point game with a 6-0 run of their own. Two made free throws from Last-Tear Poa were capped off with a three-pointer from Morris to put LSU within six, 13-19. Morris scored the last bucket of the opening quarter with a pull-up jumper to make it 15-24 Gamecocks heading into the second.
Morris led LSU with 7 points through the first ten minutes and Poa came off the bench to follow with 4 of her own. South Carolina went 10-15 from the field compared to LSU’s 6-17. Both Reese and Flau’jae Johnson ended the first with two fouls each.
Morris utilized a high ball screen to score the Tigers first 8 points of the second quarter as LSU went on an 8-2 run to put the Tigers within five. Halfway through the second Morris accounted for all 10 of LSU’s second quarter points as she went 4-5 and was the only Tiger to shoot the ball. At the media timeout South Carolina held a 32-25 lead with four minutes before the break. With a minute remaining LSU had four players with multiple fouls, LaDahzia Williams and Sa’Myah Smith with 3. Reese finished with a big block over Victaria Saxton to head into halftime down by ten, 32-42.
The Gamecocks were able to haul in ten more rebounds than the Tigers in the first half and only allowed LSU to get 3 boards on the offensive glass. Reese was held to 1-6 from the field in the first half and had just one rebound. Zia Cooke led South Carolina with 11 points and was followed by Aliyah Boston with 10.
After giving up an early bucket LSU went on a 6-0 run and held South Carolina scoreless over two minutes of action. The Tigers opened up the half in a zone defense and were able to create opportunities off of the change. Reese brought it back within five (40-45) on a putback layup as she started to get comfortable. At the media timeout the Gamecocks held a nine-point lead with 3:40 left to play in the third. With just over a minute to play in the third Smith recorded her 4th team foul after playing valuable minutes in the third. Smith scored 4 points in the third as she battled in the post with Cardoso. South Carolina went 3 of its last 3 field goals and extended its lead to sixteen.
South Carolina built on its lead through the final quarter. The Tigers were held to 16 points and 4 rebounds on 5-16 shooting. Cardoso scored 12 points in the fourth and added to a 77-percent shooting performance from the Gamecocks in the fourth quarter. South Carolina went on to win and remain undefeated on the season.
(Print recap via LSU Athletics – Video recap via Geaux Nation)