COLUMBIA, S.C. - Defense led No. 15/15 South Carolina to a 58-43 victory over Mississippi State at Colonial Life Arena Sunday afternoon. Sophomore Aleighsa Welch led the Gamecocks (22-5, 10-4) with a career-high 20 points along with 11 rebounds for her eighth double-double of the season. Defensively, the Gamecocks forced 22 Mississippi State turnovers, which they turned into 26 points. The win was South Carolina’s 10th in SEC play this season, tying the school record for the second-straight season.
South Carolina’s defense was aggressive right off the opening tip, forcing the Bulldogs into turnovers on their first eight possessions and without a shot in the first four minutes of the game. The effort delivered 12 unanswered points on the other end as the Gamecocks scored in every conceivable manner. Khadijah Sessions turned a steal into a quick layup to start things off. Sancheon White drained a 3-pointer form the left wing, and Sessions hit a pair of free throws after being fouled in transition. Ieasia Walker hit a quick jumper off a baseline out-of-bounds play, and Ashley Bruner hit a layup in transition. Welch added a free throw for a 12-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
The Gamecock defense did not let up throughout the first 20 minutes of play, allowing the Bulldogs to attempt just 18 shots and grab just eight rebounds in the opening stanza. Of the team’s 26 points off turnovers, 24 came in the first half. Mississippi State scored consecutive baskets just once in the half, which allowed them to cut the Gamecock lead to 22-11 with 10:08 left in the period. Welch answered the back-to-back scores with a pull-up jumper in the lane and a pair of free throws on the next two Gamecock possessions.
After South Carolina took a 36-20 lead into the locker room, Mississippi State scored nine of the first 11 points in the second half to pull within nine points six minutes into the period. The Gamecocks went inside to respond to the surge. Bruner hit from the right block, and Welch added two free throws while the frontcourt continued to limit the Bulldogs to one shot per possession on the other end. Elem Ibiam added a free throw, and Sessions hit a pair from the stripe to put the Gamecocks on top 45-29 with just under nine minutes to play. From there, the lead never closed inside double digits, and the Gamecocks sealed their 10th SEC win of the season.
Welch netted 12 of her 20 points in the first half and shot 6-of-9 from the field to go with 8-of-12 accuracy from the free throw line. Six of her 11 rebounds were offensive, moving her into third place in program history with 113 offensive boards this season.
Sessions and Ibiam joined Welch in double-figure scoring, adding 11 each to the offense. Bruner handed out a career-high six assists to go with her six rebounds, and Walker swiped five steals for the sixth time this season and the second time in as many games.
The Gamecocks open their final week of the regular season at Missouri on Thu., Feb. 28, before closing out with a home game on Sun., March 3, against Florida at 1 p.m. The regular-season finale will air on SportSouth.