COLUMBIA, S.C. - The Rebels once again hung tough with the No. 5 ranked team in the country for a bit Thursday afternoon, but it didn’t take long this time for the Gamecocks to pull away for good as Ole Miss fell to South Carolina, 68-43, at Colonial Life Arena. The Rebels (9-10, 3-10 SEC) shot 26 percent from the floor as Shakira Austin scored 22 points to lead the way.
She surpassed 1,000 career points and 700 career rebounds in the game, making her the only active player in the SEC to have 1,000 career points, 700 career rebounds and 150 career blocks. Valerie Nesbitt added seven points while Donnetta Johnson led Ole Miss with eight rebounds. South Carolina had their way the majority of the contest in the paint (34-20) and on the glass (+15).
“They’re the most physical team we’ve played. We knew it,” said Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. “This was the game I was most concerned about. I knew this was a ‘are you tough enough’ game. We had a lot of evenly talented games. It didn’t have to do with strategy. It had to do with sheer will. We’re very young and we didn’t step into that opportunity.”
After Zia Cooke got the Gamecocks on the board first, the Rebels responded with a 6-0 run courtesy of Austin and Johnson. Both teams had their way in the paint early on while South Carolina took advantage of numerous fast breaks to go on a 9-0 run and lead 17-10 with 4:30 left in the opening quarter. Cooke made up 12 of those points while shooting 5-of-7 from the floor.
Ole Miss cut their deficit to three coming out of the media timeout, but South Carolina managed to get to the free throw line and end the quarter up 22-16. The Rebels would go cold shooting for 3:33 and allow the Gamecocks to go up by nine midway through the second quarter. Austin snapped the scoring drought with two free throws after going down by 11 points. Cooke extended her team’s lead to 13 with just over a minute left in the half. The Gamecocks forced Ole Miss to shoot 0-of-12 from the field to end the first half with a 33-20 halftime lead.
A layup by Austin and three-point basket by Tiya Douglas cut the deficit to 10 points just over two minutes into the third quarter, but the Gamecocks went on a 7-0 run and opened up their largest lead of the game at 45-27.
With 3:53 left in the quarter, South Carolina was shooting 56 percent from the floor as Ole Miss continued to be denied at the rim. Johnson snapped an 0-of-9 field goal drought with a mid-range jump shot with under three to play, but South Carolina still held a wide margin as they led 49-31 going into the final 10 minutes.
Austin cracked 1,000 career points midway through the fourth quarter with a heavily contested shot, but the Gamecocks stayed the course the rest of the way for another SEC win.
Ole Miss will conclude the 2020-2021 regular season in Lexington when they attempt to get a season sweep of the No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats on Sunday, February 28. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. CT and can be seen on SEC Network.