DULUTH, Ga. – South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has been waiting for her team to play a complete game this season.
Staley certainly got her wish on Thursday as the No. 17 Gamecocks held Alabama to a single-game Southeastern Conference women's tournament record low in points allowed.
"I thought we played with a lot of energy, especially the second half," she said. "The second half is something we've been concentrating on, getting off to better starts. Taking advantage of mismatches we had on the floor and we put a total 40 minutes together."
Elem Ibiam scored a career-high 19 points, Ashley Bruner pulled down 14 rebounds and South Carolina easily defeated the Crimson Tide 77-35 in the second round of the SEC tournament.
Alabama's total was a record low for the tournament, one fewer than the 36 scored by Mississippi State in the Tide's 63-36 play-in victory Wednesday. That matched the 36 scored by Alabama against LSU in 2011 and by Mississippi against LSU in 2008.
The Gamecocks (24-6) will face No. 19 Texas A&M in the quarterfinals on Friday. The victory was their eighth straight over Alabama under Staley, who's now in her fifth season at South Carolina.
"We knew where the mismatches were," Staley said. "Against Alabama, they are very athletic on the perimeter. I think they're kind of undersized. We're undersized, but I don't think their post players are used to playing defense on the block."
Alabama (13-18) ended the season by losing 11 of its last 12 games. Daisha Simmons led the Crimson Tide with 10 points.
South Carolina began to assert its depth, size and speed midway through the first half.
With the shot clock winding down, Ibiam, a sophomore reserve center, caught Bruner's pass in the paint and hit a turnaround jumper. Sancheon White followed on the ensuing possession with a 3-pointer that made it 21-9 and gave the Gamecocks their first double-digit lead.
Facing Texas A&M will be a substantial challenge for South Carolina, which lost 50-48 at home to the Aggies when the two teams met on Feb. 10.
"I don't think we were shooting very well that game," Gamecocks point guard Ieasia Walker said. "To come out hitting shots on this floor on our first night here is good. We found what plays work for us."
Texas A&M has lost three straight, but Ibiam knows the Aggies' recent struggles won't make it any easier for South Carolina to get the ball inside the paint.
"I think it will be crucial," Ibiam said. "We have to get defensive stops early. Also on the offensive boards, make sure we're making plays."
Staley was hardly surprised to see her team play tough defense.
The Gamecocks allowed an average of just 49.6 points this season and ranked sixth in the nation, but the relief was in seeing her team play just as well offensively.
"We came down here to win an SEC championship — something our program has yet to achieve," Staley said. "So however we need to play, however many buckets we need to get, rebounds we need to get, hustle plays we need to make, we'll be up for the challenge to make those."