Going into Friday’s SEC tournament quarterfinals, Dawn Staley wanted her team to “square up.” When South Carolina women’s basketball have faced early opposition this season, the Gamecocks have needed time to adjust. Staley wanted them to come out and throw the first punch.
USC did just that Friday evening against No. 7 seed Alabama, starting its quest for back-to-back SEC tournament titles strong and holding off the Crimson Tide for a 75-63 victory.
Staley’s squad scored the first 12 points of the contest at Bon Secours Wellness Arena and led 26-6 after the first quarter. That proved to be enough to hold off a pesky Alabama squad that managed to outscore the Gamecocks each of the final three quarters.
The victory marks South Carolina’s third of the season over the Crimson Tide and 20th overall, marking the 10th consecutive season the Gamecocks have had at least 20 wins. They’ll face the winner of No. 3 seed Tennessee vs. No. 11 seed Ole Miss in Saturday’s semifinals.
1. Offensive identity
In addition to talking about getting out fast, Staley mentioned in the run-up to Friday’s game that South Carolina would be a more deliberate, focused offensive team. They were just that early against the Crimson Tide — star sophomore forward Aliyah Boston started the game with two touches deep in the post, converting one for a three-point play to open the scoring.
From there, the backcourt combo of junior Destanni Henderson and sophomore Zia Cooke were able to take advantage of the space and attention Boston drew inside to either drive inside or knock down jumpshots. That, combined with some easy looks in transition, had them combine for 15 points in the first quarter alone.
2. Layups falling
It’s been an issue plaguing the Gamecocks all year long — layups won’t fall and points are left on the table in close matchups. On Friday, though, those close shots were going in. The Gamecocks started 10 of 13 on layups and held on to finish 15 of 24, a very respectable 62.5% clip.
3. Big Three
South Carolina had three players in double figures — Boston, Cooke and Henderson. Cooke led the way with 22 points, while Henderson led the team with five assists to go with her 18 points, and Boston tallied 13 rebounds to go with her 16 points.
NEXT USC BASKETBALL GAME
What: SEC tournament semifinals
Who: No. 2 seed South Carolina vs. winner of No. 3 Tennessee vs. No. 11 seed Ole Miss
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville