There was joy. There always is in winning, and in a rivalry matchup, there’s more.
Dawn Staley couldn’t feel too sorry after No. 19 South Carolina’s 68-43 thrashing of Clemson on Wednesday, even though former Virginia teammate Audra Smith was on the opposite sideline. There always will be love there, but this is rivalry.
“If it was the opposite, she would take a whole lot of joy in it,” Staley said. “But I think she got a feel for the rivalry.”
The Gamecocks (5-0) did as expected, flexing their muscles and racing past the Tigers (1-3). Clemson, overwhelmed and undermanned (leading scorer and rebounder Quinyotta Pettaway was suspended for a violation of team rules), didn’t have the manpower or the talent to hope for an upset, although it did its best early with a masterful game plan.
Like most of USC’s opponents, Clemson went to the zone defense and dared the Gamecocks to throw inside. USC had success, but was kept from putting the Tigers away early by missing inside shots and throwing cross-court passes destined to become turnovers.
The Tigers attacked the paint and got to the free-throw line. Seven of Clemson’s first 11 points were from the line, and the Tigers had 12 attempts in the game’s first 12 minutes; by comparison, USC was 1-for-1 from the stripe. With two fouls on Alaina Coates and Asia Dozier playing her worst game of the season, the Gamecocks were punchless, yet still led by 10.
Staley wasn’t frustrated. She knew it was a matter of time.
“They took the air out of the ball,” Staley said. “I knew a marathon isn’t won in the first mile. It was just a different type of speed of the game.”
The Gamecocks made their first five field goal attempts of the second half, and the lead ballooned to 41-21, led by five consecutive points from Khadijah Sessions. From there, USC started stroking 3-pointers over the Tigers’ zone, and Clemson had no answer. Staley won her fourth consecutive rivalry matchup, and the Gamecocks stayed perfect going into the final two games of a three-game road swing.
“I think we saw the bottom of the zone was open,” said forward Aleighsa Welch, who posted her third double-double of the season with a game-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. “Once we got into it and faced up, we were able to kick it out.”
The Gamecocks poured it on in the second half, Sessions, Elem Ibiam and Tiffany Mitchell joining Welch in double figures and Coates shaking off a foul-marred first 35 minutes with nine points in the final five. Clemson was led by 12 points from Chelsea Lindsay and got 11 from Charmaine Tay, but two quick fouls on Tay in the first half limited her. The Tigers lost Nikki Dixon and Paige Mosley to injury, leaving them with seven players.
The Gamecocks are heading to California for two games in the next week and Staley thought the Clemson game was a good experience. It was USC’s first taste of the road this season, and in a rivalry setting. After USC put Clemson on the free-throw line in the first half, it gave the Gamecocks a preview of how different conferences will call their games.
“We’ve just got to make sure that we keep our hands off,” said Sessions, who finished with 10 points and three assists. “We’ve just got to keep moving our feet and keep boxing out, doing the best we can.”
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SOUTH CAROLINA (5-0)
Welch 7-10 3-3 17, Dozier 2-9 0-1 4, Ibiam 5-6 0-0 10, Sessions 3-7 2-3 10, Mitchell 6-10 0-0 14, Farmer 0-0 0-0 0, Montout 0-6 1-2 1, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Morrison 0-0 0-0 0, Roy 1-4 1-1 3, Coates 2-5 5-8 9. Totals 26-57 12-18 68.
Tay 5-15 1-3 11, Chatman 1-8 1-2 3, Lindsay 5-10 0-0 12, Dixon 0-0 0-0 0, Dunn 2-6 0-0 4, Gramlich 0-3 2-2 2, Mosley 0-1 2-4 2, Jamison-Myers 0-4 5-6 5, Gaillard 1-1 1-2 4. Totals 14-48 12-19 43.
Halftime: South Carolina 27-15. 3-Point Goals: South Carolina 4-16 (Sessions 2-4, Mitchell 2-4, Roy 0-3, Dozier 0-5), Clemson 3-7 (Lindsay 2-3, Gaillard 1-1, Gramlich 0-1, Tay 0-2). Fouled Out: Chatman. Rebounds: South Carolina 49 (Welch 10), Clemson 27 (Gramlich, Tay 5). Assists: South Carolina 14 (Mitchell 5), Clemson 7 (Lindsay 3). Total Fouls: South Carolina 13, Clemson 17. Attendance: 715.