After an eight-month, COVID-19 induced break, South Carolina women’s basketball is back. The Gamecocks didn’t miss a beat, rolling to an easy 119-38 win over College of Charleston to open its season Wednesday.
Returning three starters and every key reserve from last year’s SEC championship squad, preseason No. 1 USC overwhelmed the thoroughly out-matched Cougars squad in a Colonial Life Arena reduced to 3,500 capacity and significantly altered to implement coronavirus protocols.
The 119 points are the most ever scored by USC under coach Dawn Staley and tied for third most in program history. The victory, by the second-largest margin in program history, also extends the team’s program-record winning streak to 27 games.
“Each year, everybody’s growing, so it’s going to get better and better each year,” sophomore guard Zia Cooke said of the offensive outburst. “And I think we’re a very quick team, and we got so much in store. I’m not going to give away everything we’ve got, but you’ll see down the line.”
All 11 Gamecock players scored, with seven reaching double figures, led by 19 from junior forward Victaria Saxton and 18 from Cooke. Saxton also pulled down 12 rebounds, tied for the team lead, and blocked a game-high five shots. Sophomore forward Aliyah Boston, freshman forward Laeticia Amihere and senior guard LeLe Grissett all recorded double-doubles as well.
1. Never in doubt
After practicing nonstop since July, Staley said her team was eager to finally face an opponent. The Gamecocks quickly went to work, with junior guard Destanni Henderson scoring the game’s first points in five seconds. From there, they were off to the races, as College of Charleston missed its first 16 field goal attempts and USC jumped out to a 24-3 lead.
“It felt really great to get back on the court,” Saxton said. “We’re all excited to finally get back to playing. COVID messed a lot of things up for everybody, not only us, but it’s really exciting to get back on the court and just to get the feeling of playing the games.”
The lead hit double figures within four minutes and never dipped below 40 in the second half. Carolina had 50 points with 3:26 to play in the first half, 75 with 6:47 left in the third quarter and 100 with 7:46 still to play.
2. Paint dominance
Charleston’s tallest starter stood just 6-foot-1, and the much-larger Gamecocks imposed their will in the paint, scoring 74 of their points there. They also collected 23 offensive rebounds compared to 10 defensive boards for Charleston for an staggering offensive rebounding rate of 69.7%.
3. A little hiccup
If there’s one area for Staley to harp on moving forward, it will likely be South Carolina’s turnovers. The Gamecocks lost four-year point guard Tyasha Harris to graduation after last season. In her place, Henderson and sophomore Zia Cooke both scored plenty and showed flashes of passing brilliance — a behind-the-back feed from Cooke on a fast break was particularly impressive — but the Gamecocks turned the ball over nine times in the first half compared to seven assists. That ratio did improve in the second half though, with 19 helpers compared to 15 turnovers.
“I thought just flow-wise offensively, we had no flow in the first two quarters and then in the third and fourth quarters, we got a lot more flow, just ball movement and finding rhythm shots. But we got a long way to go, a really long way to go, and you see where the void of a Ty Harris, because Ty Harris can have those conversations in the locker room, during timeouts and in the huddle,” Staley said.
Who: No. 1 South Carolina vs. South Dakota
What: Women’s Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Watch: Streaming online on FloHoops.com (subscription required)