Nashville, TN — Bridgestone Arena was rumbling with the cheering of loyal fans dressed in garnet and black. Traveling all the way from Columbia, South Carolina, students and alumni were not going to leave the stands empty while their fellow no. 8 Gamecocks took on the no. 2 Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Both teams were playing such strong defense that it was nearly impossible for either team to make shots fall. Finally, after almost three minutes into the game, South Carolina’s Bianca Jackson made the first shot of the contest to put the Gamecocks up by two. It wasn’t long after when the Bulldogs came back with a Victoria Vivians jumper.
South Carolina was able to hold Mississippi State neck-and neck for the middle of the first before the Gamecocks took the lead with 2:14 left in the period. By the end of the first, South Carolina was able to widen the gap 19-14.
The second period began with both teams playing defense mercilessly. The Gamecocks were going to have to play serious offense to get past some of the Bulldogs. Although, South Carolina seemed to have no problem taking the lead and running with it.
By the middle of the second frame, the Gamecocks had a 26-16 lead on Mississippi State. Going into half time, the Gamecocks took an 11-point lead that left the Bulldogs with some serious makeup work to do after halftime.
Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (13 pts.) was leading in points for South Carolina, and that helped them in the first half of the game. But, if they were going to take home this victory, the Gamecocks needed to play relatively perfect defense.
The Gamecocks’ team captain, A’ja Wilson, began to come out of the woodworks and made shots we were used to seeing her make rather it was one-on-one in the post or scoring over multiple defenders on the offensive put back. By the close of the third quarter, she was leading her team in points (14) and showed no signs of slowing down.
South Carolina left the Bulldogs trailing by seven points (45-38) before going into the final quarter of the game.
“Throughout the season we had a bunch of doubters. We can handle things like this and we can handle adversity,” Wilson said after the game.
With what seemed like a change in pace in the beginning of the final quarter, South Carolina’s Doniyah Cliney sank a triple that brought her team to a 48-38 lead. Mississippi State countered on the other end, yet the closest South Carolina allowed the Bulldogs to get to closing that gap, was five points.
The Gamecocks had players like Tyasha Harris who knew how to shoot the ball and make shots fall nearly effortlessly or dished the ball off to an open teammate — both of which helped her team gain such a large lead.
On the other end, the Bulldogs missed most of the shots they normally make, which also helped in South Carolina keeping up the lead.
With a final score of 62-51, South Carolina claimed their fourth consecutive SEC championship -- the first program in the conference to do so. To add insult to injury, the Gamecocks handed Mississippi State their first loss of the season (32-1).
Discussing what it feels like to lose a game after such a long time, Mississippi State’s Morgan William and head coach Vic Schaefer gave their thoughts.
“It’s not a good feeling— the first loss of the year— its tough, but I’m glad its not the NCAAW," William said.
“It wasn’t a great day, but could you have still won the game? And if you believe you still could have won the game, then what was it that you could have done differently," Schaefer said.
South Carloina head coach Dawn Staley spoke after the game about her team's passion and self-belief after the tough season they've had.
“I just thought our kids were engaged. I think they wanted to create their own history and they were determined to do it," Staley said.