COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A’ja Wilson had 15 points, hitting the go-ahead basket with 4:13 left, and No. 9 South Carolina outlasted No. 11 Missouri 64-54 on Sunday night in a hard-fought game that included an on-court tussle and two Tigers ejections.
The Gamecocks (18-3, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) saw their 48-41, fourth-quarter lead evaporate after Amber Smith’s two straight buckets to tie the game at 49-all. That’s when South Carolina’s All-American in Wilson rebounded a miss by teammate LeLe Grissett and put it right back up to move the Gamecocks back on top.
Alexis Jennings, who had missed her first four shots, then followed with back-to-back baskets as South Carolina built a 57-49 lead in the final minute. The Tigers (17-4, 5-3) could not respond and the Gamecocks got a measure of revenge from their loss at Missouri three weeks back.
In that one, Wilson fouled out and Staley was ejected — and it wasn’t that long after the pre-game, ceremonial handshake between the teams before bad feelings erupted once more. The crowd at Colonial Life Arena booed Sophie Cunningham whenever she touched the ball and both sides piled up when Missouri’s Kayla Michael and South Carolina’s Alexis Jennings fought for a rebound and would not let go until they hit the floor. Teammates pushed in and the shoving began. Cunningham was in the middle while the Gamecocks’ Doniyah Cliney tried to get her opponent back, eventually shoving her with a hard right hand.
Cunningham gave Jennings a shoulder shove as she walked off the court.
Officials took about 15 minutes reviewing footage before ejecting Tigers reserves Jordan Roundtree and Nadia Green for leaving the bench.
Cunningham and Cliney were assessed unsportsmanlike fouls.
Tyasha Harris had 19 points for South Carolina, which won its fourth straight, while Wilson had a game-best 15 rebounds for her 13th game with double figure points and rebounds this season. The two-time defending SEC player of the year also had four blocks.
Cunningham led Missouri with 18 points.
Missouri: When the Tigers get Cunningham some help, they are a ferocious group. That was far from the case against the Gamecocks and Missouri paid for it. Starters Jordan Frericks and Amber Smith were a combined 8 of 20 shooting. Another starter in Bri Porter played just nine minutes because of foul trouble.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks got their pivot stretch off to the right start. With last year’s starters in Alaina Coates, Allisha Gray and Kaela Davis off to the WNBA, many wondered if South Carolina had enough pieces to make another run in the SEC and beyond. They’ve got a couple of more tests ahead, starting Thursday night against undefeated and top-ranked UConn. After that the Gamecocks travel to No. 2 Mississippi State, a team that lost three times — including the SEC and NCAA title games — to the Gamecocks.
Missouri plays its third straight ranked opponent when it faces No. 2 Mississippi State on Thursday night.
South Carolina looks to break its 0-5 mark all-time against No. 1 UConn at home Thursday night.