Considering history — recent and otherwise — looking ahead to Texas A&M would have been human nature for the USC women’s basketball team.
Avenging that Feb. 10 home loss? Sure. Get one over on former Gamecock Kelsey Bone? You bet.
But this is a Dawn Staley-coached team. No, the task at hand Thursday at the SEC tournament was dealing with Alabama, mismatch or not.
Following their 77-35 deconstruction of the Crimson Tide, the Gamecocks (24-6) could set their sights on a necessary rematch with the Aggies on Friday at 2:30 p.m.
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Senior Ashley Bruner had 10 points and 14 rebounds and was able to rest a bit during the lopsided second half on Thursday. She used that time to think ahead to her individual matchup with Bone.
“I know last time I was really hyped up, but this time I want to settle down and take my time and make her have to score in different ways than she’s used to,” Bruner said. “I’m looking forward to the matchup, the physicality I’m just ready for this one.”
Staley said coming into Thursday’s game, the Gamecocks were well aware of some mismatches on the floor against Alabama (13-18). After taking a 28-18 lead at halftime, USC exploited those breaches to maximum gain.
The Gamecocks scored 16 of the first 18 points after halftime, primarily via easy inside baskets by Bruner, Aleighsa Welch and Tiffany Mitchell, to surge ahead 44-20.
Later, Elem Ibiam and Mitchell triggered a 14-0 run, pushing the lead to 64-26.
It was Ibiam whose play provided an additional spark to the Gamecocks’ dominance in the paint. She finished with a career-high 19 points and added nine rebounds.
“I always try to come in and feed off their energy,” Ibiam said, referring to Welch and Bruner. “I try to come in, keep the momentum up and feed off them.”
USC’s largest lead came on the final basket. Khadijah Sessions’ layup with nine seconds to go put the flourish on USC’s 49-point second half. Sessions also reached double figures for the Gamecocks, finishing with 11.
USC shot 50.9 percent, including a 61.3 percent clip in the second half as every Gamecock scored at least three points. They outrebounded Alabama 47-31 as every Gamecock grabbed at least one rebound.
“I thought we played extremely well,” Staley said. “I thought we played with a lot of energy, especially in the second half. The second half is something we’ve really been concentrating on, getting off to better starts.”
And now, the rematch with Aggies (21-9), whose high point was their 50-48 victory at Colonial Life Arena. After defeating Florida in their next game, the Aggies dropped four of five to close the regular season, including their final three games.
“We’re going to take that winning streak into (Friday),” Staley said. “We came down here to win an SEC championship. We feel real good about where we are. We are focused in on what we need to do to try and get that SEC championship, something our program has yet to achieve.”
If Bruner is any indication, then Staley’s assertion rings true.
“I’m ready,” she said with a smile. “I’m ready for (Bone), I’m ready for (Ibiam) to go off again and do the unexpected. I’m just ready.”
Hegstetter 4-11 0-0 8, Horn 3-10 0-2 6, Simmons 3-7 3-4 10, Robinson 1-9 0-0 2, Perkins 0-4 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Merritt 0-0 0-0 0, Myers 1-7 0-0 3, Waters 0-0 2-2 2, Hutchen 1-3 0-2 2, Jack 1-6 0-0 2. Totals 14-57 5-10 35.
SOUTH CAROLINA (24-6)
Bruner 5-6 0-2 10, Welch 1-3 7-8 9, Walker 3-7 0-0 8, White 2-5 0-0 5, Mitchell 3-9 2-2 9, Sessions 4-5 2-5 11, Montout 1-3 0-0 3, Dozier 1-5 1-3 3, Ibiam 8-12 3-7 19. Totals 28-55 15-27 77.
Halftime: South Carolina 28-18. 3-Point Goals: Alabama 2-18 (Simmons 1-3, Myers 1-6, Hegstetter 0-1, Robinson 0-2, Horn 0-2, Jack 0-4), South Carolina 6-12 (Walker 2-4, Sessions 1-1, Mitchell 1-1, White 1-2, Montout 1-3, Dozier 0-1). Fouled Out: Horn. Rebounds: Alabama 31 (Hegstetter 7), South Carolina 47 (Bruner 14). Assists: Alabama 5 (Robinson 3), South Carolina 14 (Walker 5). Total Fouls: Alabama 18, South Carolina 12. Attendance: 2,744.