COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina's Tiffany Mitchell found the perfect way to say goodbye to the huge crowd at Colonial Life Arena - with one last stellar showing in the NCAA Tournament.
Mitchell scored 16 of her 20 points in the first two quarters to help the top-seeded Gamecocks breeze past No. 9 seed Kansas State 73-47 on Sunday night and reach the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
Mitchell, a former two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year, powered South Carolina when this season's league player of the year in A'ja Wilson, picked up two fouls and left the court less than two minutes in. ''Our post players are a big part of what we do so when one goes out, we've got to pick it up on the defensive end so we can create some offense,'' Mitchell said.
That's exactly what Mitchell did.
She stepped in front of a Kansas State pass for a breakaway layup moments after Wilson went to the bench - and it seemed like the whole fan base of 10,048 exhaled and began to cheer once more.
When Kansas State (19-13) tied things at 7-all, Mitchell slipped through three defenders, hit a layup and the following foul shot to complete a three-point play and put South Carolina (33-1) in front to stay.
She came out of the game early in the fourth quarter with South Carolina up by 30 and received a huge ovation and hugs from her teammates.
''There were a lot of emotions,'' Mitchell said. ''I was trying not to cry.''
There could be more big moments ahead. The Gamecocks play No. 4 seed Syracuse (27-7) on Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota as they look for a second straight Final Four.
''From here on out, everybody's just going to give us 110 percent,'' South Carolina forward Alaina Coates said of opponents. ''We're just going to have to come back harder than that.''
The Gamecocks (33-1) romped through their first two NCAA Tournament games, defeating Jacksonville by 36 points before routing the Wildcats.
Breanna Lewis had 21 points to lead the Wildcats, who had no answer once South Carolina got going.
Wildcats coach Jeff Mittie said his team not as disciplined early on as he wanted. ''But when we made some mistakes, South Carolina jumped right on it,'' he said.
Coates had 14 points and 10 rebounds, her second straight double-double in the NCAA Tournament and 19th of the season.
The Gamecocks led by 19 points at the break and eventually grew the lead to 32 points against their Big 12 Conference opponents.
Kansas State had hoped to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2002 and thought its 6-foot-5 junior Lewis could limit the effectiveness of South Carolina's inside power duo of 6-5 Wilson and 6-4 Coates.
But the Wildcats couldn't match up with Mitchell and point guard Khadijah Sessions, who combined for six of South Carolina's nine steals.
Mitchell has finally played like herself the past few games, winning SEC Tournament MVP honors earlier this month. When she's playing well, the Gamecocks usually play at their peak, too.
''This is the time you want to play your best basketball,'' she said.
Kansas State: Lewis had six blocks against George Washington on Friday night, setting the school record for most games in a career with five-or-more blocks at 14. Lewis has 177 blocks the past two seasons, also a Kansas State record. She finished with two blocks against the Gamecocks.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have turned up their stingy defense even more in the past month. They've held their past nine opponents to an average of 49 points a game. One team has broken the 60-point barrier in that stretch - and that was Kentucky in a 93-63 loss in the SEC tournament semifinals earlier this month.
HOME COURT EDGE
South Carolina used its strong home crowd to again come out on top at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks have gone 47-1 the past three seasons on their home court, the lone loss a 66-54 defeat last month to NCAA Tournament favorite UConn. It was the team's fourth straight home NCAA home win after sweeping last year's two opening round games.
Wildcats coach Jeff Mittie was disappointed with his team's showing against South Carolina. He was proud, however, of how his team took positive steps forward this season. Kansas State won its first NCAA Tournament game since 2012, qualifying after starting Big 12 Conference play 0-4. ''This was a year that was critical to gain some traction and we did that,'' he said.
Kansas State's season is over.
South Carolina will play No. 4 Syracuse in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.