COLUMBIA, S.C. – Finally, with 2.5 seconds to play, South Carolina women’s basketball could let out of a sigh of relief.
Junior guard A’ja Wilson stepped to the line in a 1-point game, calmly making two free throws to put the Gamecocks ahead by 3 and in driver’s seat for their fourth straight SEC regular-season championship.
Behind Wilson and junior guard Allisha Gray, No. 5 South Carolina (17-1, 7-0) handed No. 4 Mississippi State (20-1, 6-1) its first loss of the season, a 64-61 final in a thrilling back-and-forth game Monday night.
Gray and Wilson keyed South Carolina throughout, with Wilson leading the way with 26 points and Gray being the spark after halftime as South Carolina erased a 7-point halftime deficit. Gray finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds, while Alaina Coates had 9 points and 12 rebounds.
Wilson’s free throws in the final seconds came after she snagged a missed shot from Mississippi State’s Victoria Vivians, as the Bulldogs’ leading scorer sought to be the hero. The shot was way off, landing in Wilson’s hands and leaving the Gamecocks in control of the game and now in control of their destiny.
The Gamecocks seemed firmly in control with 18 seconds to play, but Kaela Davis fouled Vivians on a 3-point attempt, sending her to the line with a chance to tie the game. The junior guard made the first two, but the third bounced off the rim twice, falling out and into Wilson’s hands. A review overturned the initial ruling that the ball went out of a Mississippi State player, giving it to the Bulldogs with 17.8 seconds to play.
Junior guard Blair Schaefer missed an open corner 3-pointer and Coates forced a tie-up on the rebound with 6.5 seconds left, which led to Vivians’ missed desperate shot.
South Carolina’s perimeter offense was nonexistent in the first half, but came to life in the third quarter. Gray hit a 3-pointer on the first play of the third quarter, kicking off a 13-2 run. Harris would give South Carolina the lead with a corner 3 after a steal by Gray, who would send Colonial Life Arena into a state of pandemonium when she buried a deep 3-pointer and drew a foul to give USC a 41-37 lead.
South Carolina fell behind by 7 early on before Alaina Coates fueled a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 14-13. The Gamecocks held the lead for 13 seconds in the first half after Wilson hit a jumper from the top of the key, pushing USC up 17-16. Mississippi State made six straight field goals as it built toward a 35-28 halftime lead.
Player of the game
Gray was everything for South Carolina in the third quarter, which was critical for the Gamecocks coming back in the game. The junior guard scored 12 points, had a handful of fantastic hustle plays that led to offensive rebounds and played good defense.
Gray kept her foot on the gas heading into the fourth, as she scored the first four points for South Carolina in the final frame.
With less than 20 seconds to play, Vivians had a chance to tie the game and put the pressure on the Gamecocks offensively to win the game in regulation. But her third free-throw attempt rimmed out and Wilson came down with the rebound.
What’s next for South Carolina women’s basketball
South Carolina travels to Georgia for a 7 p.m. ET tip Thursday.