GREENVILLE, S.C. — A third game, a third location, a third win — and mostly because the player who wears the number three led the team with a career performance. Not to mention shutting down the opposing team’s star player, number 33.
And yes, the first three made shots of the game were 3 pointers.
A season after South Carolina was bounced by Arkansas in its SEC Tournament opener, the No. 1 Gamecocks (31-1) found payback and knocked off the No. 5 Razorbacks (24-8) 90-64 in a semifinal bout in this season’s conference tournament.
The Gamecocks advance to Sunday’s championship, which will be played Sunday at 2 p.m. (ESPN2) against No. 2 Mississippi State.
That number three, sophomore Destanni Henderson, led South Carolina with 21 points, a career-high. Four others added double figures — Zia Cooke (14), Aliyah Boston (13), Mikiah Herbert Harrigan (13) and Ty Harris (11) — and the Gamecocks led for all but three minutes and one second.
“I just saw the [Destanni] that I’ve always seen. A lot of people haven’t had the chance to see how good she really is. I thought she should have gotten Sixth Man of the Year,” Cooke said. “She can be a starter. She’s very good.”
The praise continued around the South Carolina locker room.
“Whenever her number is called, Destanni is ready to do anything you need her to do. She’s so fast, who can stop her? Pullups, anything,” LeLe Grissett said.
Added Harris, “She was in her bag today. She was shooting 3s, midrange. Assisting and playing point guard, we just had to get her the ball and continue to see what she could do.”
South Carolina’s stingy defense — which finished with seven blocks and three steals — held Chelsea Dungee, that number 33, to 12 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
South Carolina led by 19 at halftime, but an 8-0 Arkansas run out of the break cut it to 48-37. A deep 3 from Amber Ramirez and an Alexis Tolfree layup cut that lead to eight, at 50-42.
But the Gamecocks responded.
Harris swished a 3 from the right wing to push the pseudo home team’s lead to double digits, at 55-44, at the halfway mark of the third quarter. A Boston 3 — her second of the season — pushed it back to double digits, 58-48, with 3:21 to play.
A Henderson jumper and a Boston wide-open layup made it 62-48 with 1:41 to play, and Arkansas called timeout.
But yet another Henderson 3 — that she emphasized by holding the follow through — gave South Carolina a 65-48 lead that became 67-48 at the end of the quarter.
An and-one four minutes into the fourth quarter gave Henderson the career-high.
“Today I came out ready, confident, ready to shoot the ball,” Henderson said. “Running up and down the floor, playing good defense. Just communicating and playing with my team.”
South Carolina had seven 3s and five blocks in the first half alone and held Dungee to seven points on 2-of-5 shooting in the first 20 minutes.
Four different scorers — Harris, Cooke, Boston and Beal — gave the Gamecocks a 9-6 lead at the under-five timeout despite Arkansas 3s from Dungee and Makayla Daniels. Cooke pushed it to 12-6 on an uncontested layup after Harris found the rookie on a three-quarters-court feed.
Another outlet feed from Harris, this time to Henderson, led to a layup from the sophomore that made it 18-8 Gamecocks just before the end of the first quarter.
Herbert Harrigan kept it rolling with another running floater that was followed by a Henderson 3 from the left side.
“It felt good having an early start, knocking down shots,” Henderson said. “Just staying in the flow of the game, moving up and down the court really.”
Arkansas called timeout with the Gamecocks leading 23-10 at the 7:43 mark of the second quarter, but a Harris 3 — Cooke had her hands up before the shot even fell — and a Henderson fastbreak layup, after a Victaria Saxton block, made it 28-15 two minutes later.
Arkansas kept within striking distance with the team’s fifth 3 — from Ramirez — to cut its deficit to 30-21, but Henderson responded with two of her own to make it 36-25.
But a Daniels pull-up jumper at the 2:15 mark forced South Carolina to call timeout with a 38-27 lead.
Herbert Harrigan swished a 3 out of the brief pause, Beal had a layup and free throw and Cooke swished a late 3 from the right corner that gave South Carolina a 48-29 halftime advantage.
“They have no holes,” Arkansas head coach Mike Neighbors said. “Dawn will try to downplay it so they could stay sharp, but they’re as complete a team as we’ve had to face.”