Top-ranked South Carolina was as glossy as ever in a 111-49 dismantling of Savannah State on Sunday, the Gamecocks’ first game after a week-long break for exams. The Tigers (4-3), who beat Florida 11 days ago, were shooting well and had two leads in the game’s first three minutes.
The Gamecocks (9-0) took it personally.
USC scored 60 points in the first half, the highest-scoring period in Dawn Staley’s tenure and the fifth-highest first half in program history. The Gamecocks scored 100 points for the first time under Staley – they hit 99 three times the past two seasons – and roared into their final three non-conference games.
It will be a tough stretch – having to bus to Hampton and then flying to Minneapolis for two games in two days – but USC showed no signs of a layoff Sunday.
“I want us to continue to grow,” Staley said. “There are tests on the road, and I want us to continue to pass the test.”
Elem Ibiam, who scored a career-high 21 points, said there was no concern about the break. The only concern was in the classroom.
“We had a week off to kind of focus on exams, but we also had practice during the week,” Ibiam said. “I think practice was kind of like a study break for everybody.”
Savannah State shot early in its possessions and was aggressive on USC’s posts, putting the Gamecocks on the line. Never a great free throw-shooting team, USC was solid Sunday (34-of-47), but the Tigers’ approach did the worst thing for them – it stopped the clock.
Once Staley sent in her first substitution, the lead leaped from 15-10 to 24-10. USC never stopped sprinting or trying different offensive sets; Savannah State turnovers mounted as the Gamecocks began tightening their defense.
USC had 60 in the first half and led by 38, but it wasn’t content. The second half offered a chance to pad statistics, and the team took advantage.
A’ja Wilson upped her career-high to 23 points. Alaina Coates scored 20, Aleighsa Welch had 11, Tiffany Mitchell posted 15 and freshman Bianca Cuevas added 10. Tina Roy had 10 assists to become the first Gamecock under Staley to hit that mark. Everything worked, particularly the inside game – USC had 70 points in the paint and scored 111 points, despite making one 3-pointer.
“They were posting up and they were finishing,” Staley said, “something we haven’t done extremely well in the last couple of games.”
The final 10 minutes served to see if the Gamecocks could break 100. They’d had opportunities before but always had held up. This time, there was too much time left to be nice.
Wilson laid in a bucket to cross the threshold, and USC added 10 after that. The points were the most since USC scored 117 in 2006 under Susan Walvius; the last time the Gamecocks scored 100 or more was in 2008, also under Walvius, in the first round of the WNIT.
USC finished its home non-conference record and prepared for nearly a month with nothing to worry about but basketball. By the time classes begin for the spring semester, the Gamecocks will be four games into the SEC season.
“We take a constant battle of trying to stay disciplined and getting each individual player better in what they do,” Staley said. “It’s mainly our youngsters.”