MB’s Sessions helps lead Gamecocks to Sweet 16

uscwhoops-sessionsfeatureNo. 8 South Carolina advanced to its second NCAA Sweet 16 in the last three seasons with a 78-69 win over Oregon State Tuesday night at Alaska Airlines Arena.

The Gamecocks got double-doubles from their player of the year candidates Tiffany Mitchell and Aleighsa Welch and turned in a defensive effort that held the Beavers’ leading scorer scoreless until the final 90 seconds of the game. OSU fought to the end, forcing the Gamecocks to close it out at the free throw line, where they went 13-of-14 in the final three minutes.

The Gamecocks did what they wanted defensively in the first half, which was limit Oregon State point guard Sydney Wiese. The Beavers’ leading scorer was 0-of-7 from the field playing the entire 20 minutes. Offensively, South Carolina struggled early, but found its rhythm midway through the period.

After Elem Ibiam scored the first four points of the game, the Gamecocks used speed to score the next four with Khadijah Sessions hitting a transition layup off a steal and Asia Dozier converting a pair of free throws after she was fouled on a fast break as well. The Beavers tied the game at 8-8 on a 3-pointer from Jamie Weisner with 14:14 to go in the period, but the Gamecocks answered with a 7-0 run powered by the inside game.

Alaina Coates opened the surge with a pair of free throws, and Welch converted a traditional three-point play and followed with a drive to the basket where Coates found her out of the double team for a 15-8 Gamecock lead with 11:45 to go in the half. Oregon State kept pace behind the outside shooting of Weisner, but the inside game was wearing down the other Beavers, and fouls were piling up. South Carolina was in the double-bonus with six minutes left in the first half, which they finished shooting 13-of-16 from the free throw line.

Oregon State pulled within three on another Weisner 3 to make the score 22-19 at the 7:38 mark of the half, but the Gamecocks mounted a 10-2 run behind aggressive offense that yielded free throw opportunities. Sessions also loosened up the inside with a 3 from the left side during the spurt that eventually sent the Gamecocks into the locker room with a 34-25 lead.

After going scoreless in the first half, Mitchell scored the second half’s first five points to start a 9-3 run that included back-to-back 3s from Mitchell and Dozier. Defensively, the Gamecocks were as stingy as ever, allowing OSU just three points in the first 6:30 of the period. Trailing 47-31 after five straight points from Welch, the Beavers had another run in them, scoring six-straight points helped by a pair of Gamecock turnovers.

Mitchell ended the run with a 3 from the left side, her second of the night, that refocused the defensive effort and kicked off an 8-0 South Carolina surge. Turnovers allowed the Beavers another run, this one cutting the Gamecock lead to 56-44 with 4:05 to play. A pair of free throws from Sessions and a baseline jumper from Welch stretched it back out to 16 points, which was enough to hold off the Beavers down the stretch.

Mitchell finished with a double-double after not scoring in the first half, adding 20 points and 10 rebounds. Welch also notched a double-double, tallying 21 points and 11 boards, and Coates narrowly missed one of her own, scoring nine and pulling down 11 rebounds. Sessions also reached double figures for South Carolina, pouring in 13 points. The Gamecocks had a decided advantage on the free throw line, hitting 34-of-43 attempts to just 9-of-18 for OSU.

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