No. 14 Arkansas 80, South Carolina 70
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) _ SEC Freshman of the Year Christy Smith scored 17 points Friday night to lead Arkansas to an 80-70 victory over South Carolina for the Lady Razorbacks’ first SEC tournament victory.
Stephanie Bloomer added 16 points for the 14th-ranked, fifth-seeded Lady Razorbacks (22-5). Karen Jones had 12 points and Kelly Jonson 11.
Arkansas advances to play fourth-seeded Alabama in Saturday’s second round with its first victory in four SEC tournaments.
``We should be playing with a lot of confidence,″ said Arkansas coach Gary Blair. ``Because of all we’ve accomplished this year, we’re playing with house money right now. I’m sure we’re going to the NCAA tournament, but it’ll be a short stay here and there if we play like we did in the first half tonight.″
South Carolina (11-16) was led by Jenny Randall with 24 points and Shannon Johnson with 17.
The game was tied 34-all at the half, and the Lady Gamecocks hung close to favored Arkansas most of the second half. South Carolina took its last lead on a 3-pointer by Randall with 8:14 to play that made it 58-57.
Smith put the Lady Razorbacks ahead to stay with a bucket with 6 1/2 minutes to go, and Kelly Johnson made it 61-58 with 5:04 left.
Cindy Kelly scored to pull South Carolina back to 61-60 with 4:43 to go, but the game was basically over before the Lady Gamecocks scored again.
Kimberly Wilson’s 3-pointer started a run of nine straight Arkansas points, the last coming on Smith’s two free throws with 1:10 left, that made it 70-60. The Lady Razorbacks put it away from the foul line, hitting 16 straight in the final 2:21.
``It’s tough at the end because their ability at the free throw line puts them a notch ahead of other teams,″ said South Carolina coach Nancy Wilson.