DULUTH, Ga.-Kristi Bellock scored 17 points and Karla Gilbert added 13 off the bench to lead No. 19 Texas A&M to a 61-52 win over No. 14 South Carolina Friday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament inside The Arena at Gwinnett Center.
With the victory, the fourth-seeded Aggies (22-9) advance to the semifinals of their conference tournament for the eighth straight year and will face off with top-seeded and ninth-ranked Tennessee (24-9) on Saturday at 3 p.m. CT (ESPNU, Sports Radio 1150 The Zone).
"I'd just like to give credit to my kids," head coach Gary Blair said. "We were hurting with foul trouble, and in steps Karla Gilbert. Rachel Mitchell came in gave us some big-time minutes.Jordan Jones made a driving layup we had to have. It wasn't the best shooting night, but it's not going to be when you play the best defensive team in the league. We hit the key shots, our defense stayed steady and we hit our free throws down the stretch. I'm so happy for this team because we want to go into NCAA Tournament on a high. If we play defense like we did today we'll be in good shape tomorrow."
A&M held a 12-point lead with just over six minutes to go in the game, but the Gamecocks (24-7) used a 7-0 run to pull within five, 54-49, heading into the final media timeout.
The Aggies remained focused defensively, however, forcing South Carolina to miss four straight shots. Bellock added a jumper and a fast-break layup off a Courtney Walker steal to extend the lead to nine with 90 seconds to go.
Texas A&M closed out the win, which saw the Aggies go to the free-throw line a season high 28 times, making 20, with three free throws that sealed the victory in the final minutes.
It was a quick start for A&M on the day, which raced out to an 8-2 lead before the first media timeout. The Aggies forced four quick South Carolina turnovers to take the advantage, and extended their lead into double digits at 19-8 just past the midway point of the period.
The Gamecocks got both Bone and Bellock in foul trouble and used that advantage to claw their way back in the game. South Carolina held A&M without a field goal for a five-minute span and went on a 7-0 run to pull within three at 21-18 with 3:37 to go before half. The Aggies would lock down on defense and, despite closing the first half 1-for-11 from the floor, took a 24-21 lead into the locker room.
South Carolina tied the game on an Ieasia Walker three-pointer a few minutes into the second half, and took its first lead of the contest soon thereafter. Gilbert provided a huge spark off the bench that saw A&M regain the lead and never look back-the junior scored six points and grabbed a key steal on an 11-3 run that would give the Aggies control of the game.
Again the A&M defense rose to the challenge in conjunction with Gilbert's play, holding South Carolina 0-for-8 over the span to open the lead to 42-33 with about 12 minutes left.
A&M held the Gamecocks to 35 percent from the floor and forced 18 turnovers on the day.