The little girl in the “Wooo Pig Soooiee” shirt ducked. The guy with the tuba dove to the side. The older gentleman reflexively raised his cane to try to deflect it.
If the fans felt assaulted, imagine what Arkansas was thinking. There was no escape from the barrage that South Carolina shelled all over Verizon Arena in a 58-36 SEC tournament quarterfinal domination on Friday.
“When we see one of us getting a lot of blocked shots, we’re like, ‘OK, we can go for it. We can be a little more aggressive,’” center Elem Ibiam said. “And, it’s fun.”
Seemed to be.
The Gamecocks blocked a school-record 15 shots as they advanced to their third SEC tournament semifinal, all over the past four years. Third-ranked USC (28-2) will play LSU at 5 p.m. on Saturday, attempting to advance to its first SEC tournament championship game.
Defense ruled the day and preserved a lead that USC had the entire game, despite a 13-minute struggling stretch at the beginning of the second half. The Razorbacks (17-13), spacing out each possession and trying to beat USC with jumpers, got to within eight before USC re-asserted.
Alaina Coates, Aleighsa Welch and Tiffany Mitchell scored the next 11 points as the SWAT team continued to volleyball-spike the Razorbacks’ shot attempts and create transition opportunities. Arkansas hit one of its final 19 attempts, shot 19.3 percent and made 11 field goals for the game.
Razorbacks star forward Jessica Jackson, who scored 25 in a win against Ole Miss on Thursday, was held to 13 and didn’t make a two-point field goal. Every time she got into the lane, it seemed like a spider in a USC jersey had all eight arms raised in front of her.
“I think they just packed it in, did what they were supposed to do,” Jackson said. “They played good defense.”
Welch started it with a block 1:42 into the game, and Ibiam followed with three within a 95-second stretch. With each drawing more “ooohs” from the crowd and applause from the USC bench, everybody began to get involved.
“You’re kind of thinking in the back of your head, ‘OK, Lay got two, Elle got two, let me try to get one!,’” Welch said. “A lot of it is about the momentum it brings, because it kind of hypes everybody up.”
“It is,” A’ja Wilson agreed. “And also, if they just put it in your face, you just really don’t have a choice.”
Ibiam and Wilson had four blocks each. Welch had three. Coates had two and Tina Roy and Jatarie White had one each. USC slung Spaldings like Bubba Watson bats Titleists.
“We’re knocking everybody’s shots back into the stands,” Coates said. “It’s a really energizing feeling.”
Mitchell led the team with 12 points, while Coates got back to her usual game with 11 (and eight rebounds). Wilson had eight, Welch and Asia Dozier each had six and Ibiam continued her reputation of saving her best for the postseason with seven points and nine rebounds.
“The coaches told us what they expected,” Ibiam said. “It was an emphasis for us tonight.”
Nobody could remember being part of a game like that, but everybody concurred that USC had gotten away from being an elite shot-blocking team. The Gamecocks had done it early in the season, and they checked into the game ninth in the country with 6.2 per game.
They wanted more.
“I think we had eight or nine in the first half,” Staley said. “That was the first thing that jumped off the stat sheet. I know, a lot of times, we get on the officials. But kudos to the officials today for allowing us to do such a thing.”
Jackson 2-13 7-8 13, Wolff 4-12 0-0 8, Bowen 1-5 0-0 2, Berna 1-8 2-2 5, Brooks 2-11 1-3 5, Bostad 1-3 0-2 3, Bailey 0-0 0-0 0, West 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 11-57 10-15 36.
SOUTH CAROLINA (28-2)
Welch 3-6 0-0 6, Dozier 3-5 0-0 6, Ibiam 3-4 1-4 7, Sessions 0-3 0-1 0, Mitchell 5-12 0-0 12, Cuevas 1-5 2-2 4, Gaines 0-1 0-0 0, Wilson 2-4 4-4 8, Roy 2-4 0-0 4, White 0-0 0-0 0, Coates 5-10 1-1 11. Totals 24-54 8-12 58.
Halftime_South Carolina 31-17. 3-Point Goals_Arkansas 4-15 (Jackson 2-4, Bostad 1-2, Berna 1-5, Brooks 0-4), South Carolina 2-10 (Mitchell 2-5, Sessions 0-1, Dozier 0-1, Roy 0-1, Cuevas 0-2). Fouled Out_Bowen. Rebounds_Arkansas 32 (Bowen, West 6), South Carolina 44 (Ibiam 9). Assists_Arkansas 9 (Brooks 3), South Carolina 16 (Cuevas, Roy 4). Total Fouls_Arkansas 16, South Carolina 14.