Coach Dawn Staley came away from the USC men's team upset of No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday night as impressed as anybody. When she addressed the media Wednesday, she mentioned that wins like that can be contagious.
Consider her a prophet.
The South Carolina women notched a signature win of their own - and maybe the most significant in Staley's two seasons - with a 64-50 victory against Mississippi on Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena.
"I think our players were pretty psyched about being at the game (on Tuesday)," Staley said. "It was electric. Anytime you can get a big win like that right here on campus, it's got to be contagious. We're hoping that this win was part of that."
The Rebels (14-6, 5-2) came in as the hottest team in the SEC and were tied with Tennessee atop the standings. They upset No. 8 Georgia on Sunday and were just outside of the Top 25 this past week. In the past four games, Mississippi was shooting nearly 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from the 3-point line, but they shot 38 percent in Thursday's loss.
The victory allows the Gamecocks (11-9, 4-4) to move back to .500 in the SEC at the halfway point.
"At this point, every win is a big win," Staley said. "For the coaching staff, it's a huge win. I don't think our players really look at the standings. They are just taking one win at a time."
South Carolina's effort on the defensive end was spearheaded by La'Keisha Sutton and Lauren Falohun. They were given the assignment of guarding the SEC leading scorer Bianca Thomas. They held her to 8 points on 2-of-10 shooting, 13 points below her average. It was the first time this season the senior had been held under 10 points.
Thomas didn't score until 12:38 remained in the game when she banked in a jumper from the free throw line.
Staley pointed out that was a key.
"Keisha really gets up to play the opponent's top player, top scorer," Staley said. "Our game plan for (Thomas) was to get her to play both sides of the basketball. We wanted her to play offense and defense so her shot wouldn't be as fresh in the 35th through the 40th minute. She got in foul trouble early too, and that helped our cause."
It was a 16-3 run that sandwiched the half that gave the Gamecocks the lead. They closed the first half on a 9-2 spurt in which four different players scored, and the Rebels went the final 3:55 of the half scoreless.
Valerie Nainima hit a 3-pointer from the corner that capped a 7-1 start to the second half, and the Gamecocks led by 16. The lead grew to 18 points and never fell below eight the rest of the way.
Nainima led four Gamecocks in double figures with 17 points. The 5-foot-5 guard is USC's leading scorer, but she only scored 17 in the past two games - both losses. Even though she was 5-for-9 from the 3-point line to come out of her mini-slump, she thought the defensive effort was a big difference.
"I think Lauren Falohun came in and did such a great job on (Thomas)," Nainima said. "We shut her down early, and she game in and the energy level and the intensity was still up there. As soon as we took care of her our confidence grew and we ran with it."
Sutton continued her recent hot play with 13 points and Charenee Stephens added 12 with Kelsey Bone chipping in 11.