SEC champs! No. 1 South Carolina secures conference crown with win over Alabama

No. 1 South Carolina defeated Alabama 72-44 Thursday at Colonial Life Arena. The victory marked career win No. 600 for coach Dawn Staley and clinched the Gamecocks’ eighth SEC regular-season title.

The Gamecocks are an unarguable dynasty of the Southeastern Conference. SEC royalty, having officially surpassed Georgia (seven) for the second most regular-season titles in conference history. Only Tennessee has more (18).

The win also secured the No. 1 seed for South Carolina in next month’s conference tournament. The Gamecocks, which technically own a share of the regular-season title, can win it outright with one more SEC win or a loss by LSU.

South Carolina started guards Te-Hina Paopao, Bree Hall and Raven Johnson along with forwards Chloe Kitts and Ashlyn Watkins.

Starting center Kamilla Cardoso did not participate in Thursday’s game so she could rest, the Gamecocks announced during warm-ups. Cardoso missed South Carolina’s games versus Missouri and UConn earlier this month for an Olympic Qualifying Tournament with Brazil Basketball. While in her home country for the event, Cardoso played in three games. Two days after arriving back in Columbia, Cardoso led USC to a hard-fought win over Tennessee. Prior to the game, coach Dawn Staley said her star center may be a bit of a minutes restriction. Instead she got her rest Thursday night.

Four South Carolina players scored in double digits against Alabama: Watkins (14), Hall (13), Sania Feagin (10) and Tessa Johnson (12).

The Gamecocks (26-0, 13-0) will travel to Lexington, Kentucky, Sunday to take on the Wildcats at 3 p.m. on SEC Network.

Lock-down defense

South Carolina’s defense overwhelmed Alabama’s from tip off.

The Crimson Tide managed 11 points by intermission, which marked the fewest points the Gamecocks have allowed in an SEC game all season (previously 15 versus Kentucky). Alabama connected on five of 32 shot attempts (15.6%) in the first two quarters.

USC also had seven blocks by halftime, with all but three players swatting at least one shot and Watkins (living up to her “SWatkins” nickname) swatting two.

The Gamecocks also stole six possessions in the first two quarters, which they were able to convert to 11 points (making up one third of their first half total).

Alabama ended the game having shot 22.1% from the field. USC finished 12 blocks, nine steals and 47 rebounds (31 defensive).

Ashlyn Watkins continues Sixth Woman of the Year campaign

Watkins made her fifth start for the Gamecocks Thursday night en lieu of Cardoso, who was rested to overcome lingering soreness. As in her previous four starts, Watkins did not disappoint.

The sophomore scored 14 points (the first Gamecock to reach double digits), snagged 10 rebounds and blocked three shots, leading the team in the first two stats. It marked her seventh double-double of the season. Another big performance out of a player determined to win the conference’s Sixth Woman of the Year Award (which she’ll be eligible for, as she won’t have started more than one third of USC’s games).

Next four South Carolina women’s basketball games

  • Sunday: at Kentucky, 3 p.m. (SEC Network)

  • Feb. 29: at Arkansas, 9 p.m. (SEC Network)

  • March 3: vs. Tennessee, noon (ESPN)

  • March 6-10: SEC Tournament