The SEC’s first- and last-place women’s basketball teams met Thursday night, and No. 2 South Carolina wasted no time in asserting its dominance over Auburn, overwhelming the cellar-dwelling Tigers in the first half and cruising home for a 77-58 victory.
The Gamecocks opened things up on a 7-0 run, forcing a timeout from Auburn less than three minutes into the contest after sophomore Zia Cooke hit a 3-pointer.
But the break couldn’t cool Cooke off — she hit another 3-pointer on the next possession, then another 3-pointer the one after that. All the looks came off assists from junior guard Destanni Henderson, who finished the game with nine helpers.
“You look at her stats and the ability to catch and shoot, she’s pretty darn accurate,” USC coach Dawn Staley said of Cooke. “And I think when she gets clean looks like that, early in the shot clock, her feet are set, they’re expected 3s, and more times than not, she’s very efficient with those.”
Auburn, meanwhile, struggled to get anything going offensively. The Tigers shot just 10% in the first quarter, with more of their attempts getting blocked than going in the basket.
“You can definitely see why South Carolina is the (No. 2) team in the country,” Auburn coach Terri Williams-Flournoy said. “I mean, they’re very good and they get you at so many positions. They’re tough to guard, and starting out in the first quarter like we did, that really doesn’t help you playing against the (No. 2) team in the country.
That first quarter dominance the tone for a first half in which nothing went right for Auburn and South Carolina could seemingly do no wrong, going up 47-18. Cooke tallied 17 points, nearly outscoring Auburn all by herself, and the Gamecocks kept pushing in the second quarter, going up by 30 less than 13 minutes into the game.
“It’s always great when we get off to a great start,” Staley said. “If we can can play fast, if we can get up and down the floor, that only helps us just flow a lot better offensively and defensively, because when our juices are flowing, we can defend, we can get down and defend and cough some people up and make some offense from our defense.”
Riding that hot start, USC cruised to its 22nd consecutive road win, the longest active streak in the country. That streak will face a major test Monday when the Gamecocks travel to No. 3 UConn.
1. Unique shutdown
Auburn’s biggest threat is senior forward Unique Thompson, who entered Thursday’s contest tops in the SEC in rebounding with 14 per game and sixth in scoring at 17.8 points per game. Early on, though, she could get absolutely nothing going against the Gamecocks, missing her first eight shots before finally getting on the score sheet with 1:31 before halftime. She finished 4-for-13 from the field with 10 points and eight rebounds, but most of her production came in garbage time.
2. Boston baking
While Cooke fell silent in the second half, adding just one rebound and no assists over the third quarter before sitting the fourth, sophomore forward Aliyah Boston took over. She had eight points in the third quarter alone and finished with 14 points and eight rebounds on the night.
3. Second half story
While the game was functionally over by halftime, coach Dawn Staley will still have a few things for USC to correct from the third quarter, when Auburn started off hot with a pair of 3-pointers and actually outscored the Gamecocks 21-18. USC’s offense was still solid, adjusting and pounding the ball inside. But the Tigers were able to get going from the floor as well.
Into the fourth quarter, Carolina’s starters rested ahead of the matchup with UConn, and Auburn continued to close the gap. In the end, the Tigers outscored the Gamecocks 40-30 in the second half.
“That was kind of hard to watch. We didn’t play our starters a whole lot of minutes, probably more minutes than we really wanted to play. But, you know, we need to take playing better, fluidity, offensively, just being able to get stops,” Staley said of the second half. “It’s everything that Auburn did to us. I mean, they put us back on our heels. They made them even cough the ball over 17 times. We just have to do better, we have to play better on both sides of the basketball, but it’s good to get some people in that haven’t played a whole lot of minutes this year.”
NEXT USC BASKETBALL GAME
Who: No. 2 South Carolina (15-1, 10-0 SEC) vs. No. 3 UConn (12-1, 10-0 Big East)
When: Monday, Feb. 8
Where: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs, Connecticut