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Arkansas no match for No. 6 Gamecocks
South Carolina's Aleighsa Welch (24) battles for a loose ball with Arkansas' Jessica Jackson (00) during an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Arkansas coach Tom Collen thinks Razorbacks freshman Jessica Jackson has plenty to learn about playing in the Southeastern Conference.
The SEC's fourth-leading scorer absorbed a humbling lesson against No. 6 South Carolina on Sunday.
Jackson was held to less than half her 16.6 point-a-game average and made just one of her 12 field goal tries in a 67-49 loss to the first-place Gamecocks.
"She didn't finish anything from five feet today and that was tough on her," Collen said.
Jackson finished with eight points, six of those on foul shots. It was just her third game in single digits this season.
Jackson has been perhaps the brightest spot in a season that's getting away from the Razorbacks (16-8, 3-8) since league play started.
South Carolina spoiled their 13-0 start with a 55-51 win on Jan. 2 and Arkansas has won just three of 10 games since. The back half of the run has also included losses to SEC powers Kentucky and Tennessee, along with a second defeat to the Gamecocks.
Collen says he and his players haven't conceded anything yet.
"We feel like we've got a chance," he said. "We honestly feel like if we get to 7-9, our RPI will rise and we've got a legitimate shot at the NCAA tournament.
"I know we don't look like that right now to people outside the SEC," he said.
The first-place Gamecocks (22-2, 10-1 Southeastern Conference) are the SEC's lone one-loss team. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley won't allow her players to get ahead of themselves.
"The way you look at is if we continue to do what we've done all season long, that stuff will take care of itself," Staley said. "We're going to concentrate on getting another win on the road at LSU. Whatever's after that is after that."
South Carolina won't play again until traveling to No. 16 LSU next Sunday.
Aleighsa Welch had 16 points and a career-best five blocks to lead the Gamecocks.
Arkansas did its best to pack in the middle and disrupt South Carolina's game plan of feeding the 6-foot Welch and 6-4 forwards Elem Ibiam and Alaina Coates underneath. But Ibiam and Coates both added 10 points each while the trio of low-post players combined for 21 rebounds.
Tiffany Mitchell, who had 15 points for South Carolina, said the team looks first to the post before taking outside shots. "That's where we go. That's our bread and butter right now," she said.
South Carolina also turned up its defense against the Razorbacks, holding them to under 30 percent shooting for a second time this season.
Calli Berna and Keira Peak led the Razorbacks with nine points each.
The Gamecocks were ahead by double digits midway through the opening period and led 33-18 at the break. Arkansas cut that down to 37-27 on Berna's 3-pointer with 15:26 left. South Carolina steadily built that back to 53-34 on Coates' three-point play with 8:48 remaining.
South Carolina has steadily risen in the SEC this season because of its power in the paint. Ibiam leads the conference in blocks — she set the school's single-season mark in last Thursday night's win at Mississippi State — while Coates is third in league blocks.
And it was clear from the start, the Razorbacks wanted to pack things in down low and prevent the quick lay-ins and close in buckets that have the Gamecocks on top in SEC field-goal percentage.
Arkansas' plan worked for a while. It forced South Carolina into 10 first-half turnovers — the Gamecocks had 14, 11 and 11 in each of their past three games — and made the team look for other ways to score.
The Razorbacks finished the half with 18 points and six field goals, four by Peak. It was their second-lowest points output in a half — the fewest came on Jan. 2 when the Gamecocks held Arkansas to 16 points in the opening half of a 55-51 victory in Fayetteville.
The game was part of "Play4Kay" series to raise breast cancer awareness. Both teams wore pink sneakers, the officials used pink whistles and coaching staffs wore "Play4Kay" shirts or sported pink ribbons.
During warmups, South Carolina's shirts also had "Nikki" in honor of assistant Nikki McCray who was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this season.