Didn’t think she’d leave that red cape home this time of year, did you?
As she has throughout her career, South Carolina’s Tiffany Mitchell saved the Gamecocks’ day in a 73-47 rout of Kansas State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The one they call “Superwoman” took over when SEC Player of the Year A’ja Wilson was on the bench with two quick fouls in the first quarter, scoring 16 first-half points and directing USC once more into the Sweet 16.
The Gamecocks (33-1) will take on fourth-seed Syracuse in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Friday at a time to be determined.
“When one goes out, you kind of got to pick it up on the defensive end so we can create some offense for ourselves,” said Mitchell, who finished with 20 points.
“Tiffany Mitchell has been that for us for the past couple of seasons,” USC coach Dawn Staley said. “She knows when to turn it on and when to turn it off and when to kind of fly under the radar. I do think she made a conscious effort when A’ja went out to just step up and know that we needed to not feel A’ja sitting on the bench for the majority of the game.”
The Wildcats (19-13) accomplished one of their biggest goals when Wilson headed to the bench less than two minutes in, but the Gamecocks had too many other weapons. As it did at the SEC tournament, USC fell in line behind Mitchell, whose lethal scoring had K-State scurrying around the court trying to stop her.
Whenever they managed to, Mitchell found ways to get the ball to her teammates. Unselfish on offense and nasty on defense, the Gamecocks quickly let the Wildcats know that even without their biggest gun, they still had plenty in the arsenal.
“You get her on that bench early, this gives you an opportunity to take advantage of that,” Wildcats coach Jeff Mittie said. “We just didn’t play well enough to do that.”
The Wildcats tried to keep pace with their own star, forward Breanna Lewis, but she had no help. While Lewis was a force inside, ending with nearly half of K-State’s points, two of the Wildcats’ starting three guards weren’t able to take a shot in the first half because of the Gamecocks’ ferocious defense.
“We just noticed where the weaknesses lay, and we really had to attack it,” said Alaina Coates, who posted her 19th double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. “We already know that pounding the ball inside is going to open it up for our guards.”
The fourth quarter was a protracted curtain call for each of the five seniors, letting the 10,048 at Colonial Life Arena cheer a group that has only lost one home game in the past three years.
Mitchell summed up a stretch of three dominant games over the last four, and the desire to see it continue in Sioux Falls.
“I think we’re in a good place right now.”
Wilson was called for a charge at 8:17 of the first quarter, sending her to the sidelines. At 7:55, Mitchell plucked Megan Deines and shot downcourt for a layup.
It was the Gamecocks’ second lead. They never lost it.
Star of the game: Mitchell finished with 20, 16 in the first half, and once again shouldered her teammates. The senior also had three assists, four steals and four rebounds.
Play of the game: Mitchell’s layup sent a message – “You put our best player on the bench. That was not wise.”
Stat of the game: Kansas State forward Breanna Lewis scored 21 of the Wildcats’ 47. She was 9-of-19 from the field.
The rest of the Cats were 9-of-37.
FROM THE BASELINE
Hello, South Dakota: Put it this way – there will be no outside distractions to keep the Gamecocks from concentrating on the Final Four. While it’s tough for the fans who won’t be able to make it, USC will be able to study the four teams in the regional, because what else is there to do?
Familiarity: The Gamecocks’ old scouting reports will come in handy. They know every other team in the regional from beating them this year, except for first opponent Syracuse, which they beat twice last year.
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SOUTH CAROLINA 73, KANSAS ST. 47
KANSAS ST. (19-13)
K. Page 1-5 0-0 3, Lewis 9-19 3-4 21, Deines 1-10 3-4 5, Wesemann 2-6 0-0 5, Martin 1-6 0-0 2, Sheble 2-3 0-0 4, Young 0-2 1-2 1, Goth 2-3 2-3 6, Taylor 0-1 0-0 0, Thomson 0-0 0-0 0, Craig 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-56 9-13 47.
SOUTH CAROLINA (33-1)
Wilson 2-9 4-4 8, Dozier 1-6 0-0 3, Coates 5-7 4-8 14, Sessions 3-5 0-0 6, Mitchell 7-13 5-8 20, Cuevas 3-6 0-0 8, Cliney 0-1 0-0 0, Roy 2-6 0-0 6, Imovbioh 2-2 1-4 5, White 1-5 1-2 3, Farmer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-60 15-26 73.
3-Point Goals—Kansas St. 2-14 (K. Page 1-3, Wesemann 1-4, Taylor 0-1, Deines 0-3, Martin 0-3), South Carolina 6-22 (Cuevas 2-5, Roy 2-6, Mitchell 1-4, Dozier 1-5, Sessions 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Kansas St. 32 (Lewis 9), South Carolina 47 (Coates 10). Assists—Kansas St. 9 (Wesemann 3), South Carolina 11 (Dozier, Mitchell, White 3). Total Fouls—Kansas St. 19, South Carolina 15. A—10,048.