Double double-doubles from Aj’a Wilson and Alexis Jennings powered No. 5 South Carolina to a big 72-52 win over No. 14 Duke on Sunday at Colonial Life Arena.
Neither team’s gameplan going into the matchup was much of a secret: South Carolina (8-1) would rely on Wilson, Jennings and the rest of its bigs, while Duke would attempt to collapse on Wilson and out-quick the Gamecocks with guards Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown.
As it turned out, USC managed to maintain Duke’s dangerous long-range shooting, but the Blue Devils had no answers for South Carolina’s post play, as Wilson collected 18 points and 11 rebounds and Jennings put up 21 points and 10 rebounds.
“I think they have an incredible amount of respect for each other, on and off the court,” USC head coach Dawn Staley said of her two starting forwards. “So it makes them being on the court and looking for each other and figuring out where they can make each other better, and it’s worked out great for us, especially today.”
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All told, 61 of South Carolina’s 72 points came either from the free throw line or in the paint. Without injured guards Lindsey Spann and Bianca Cuevas-Moore, the only Gamecock to hit a 3-pointer all game was sophomore guard Victoria Patrick, but USC won the rebounding battle 40-26.
Jennings led the rebounding effort on the offensive glass, pulling down eight offensive boards, while Wilson grabbed eight defensive ones. After the game, the outgoing and talkative Wilson and more introverted Jennings were asked about how they worked together.
“I’m so glad I don’t have to play against her against Kentucky. But it is so great to have her. She’s just so great and I’m so proud of her,” Wilson said of Jennings before pretending to burst into tears. “But for real, our chemistry’s great. She clears out the paint and that’s great to have her game. We complement each other and I think that’s always a good thing.”
“Great answer,” Jennings said.
Duke, who entered the game ranked seventh in the nation in 3-point percentage at 44 percent, was just 1-for-10 from long distance against the Gamecocks. Brown scored 13 points, but was 5-for-14 from the field, and Greenwell, who entered the game averaging 19.6 points per game, had just eight points on 3-for-8 shooting while being guarded by freshman Bianca Jackson, who was making just her second career start.
“We’ve played Duke for a few years now, and no one’s ever played Rebecca that way,” Staley said of Jackson’s performance. “Bianca really didn’t have a lot of offensive (responsibilities) like Tiffany Mitchell had and Kaela (Davis) and Allisha (Gray) but she really locked in. She really locked in on the gameplan and she grew up tonight, and we can only expect her to continue from this and grow from it.”
Before the contest, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley emphasized transition defense as both an area where her team has struggled at times and as crucial to the Gamecocks’ chances against their third ranked opponent of the season.
Staley’s squad took that message to heart — while Duke won the turnover battle 13-12, South Carolina led in points off turnovers, 19-9. Wilson credited that success to the team’s mental focus.
“That’s just heat, that’s just effort,” Wilson said. “I think one of our keys was just effort for 40 minutes, and that’s a huge part of transition D — effort, whether you’re gonna get back on defense or not and we did a great job of understanding that that was our main goal to to get back on transition D.”
Staley also praised the team’s energy and focus, calling the game the Gamecocks’ most complete performance of the season “by far.”
“This team was locked in,” Staley said. “And we could have easily said, we didn’t have this person or that person and felt sorry for ourselves, but we’re not that kind of team. Our team really feels like we’re always going to have enough to win a game on any given night. ... If they can play this way for 40 minutes, this is who we are, this is what we want our identity to be.”
South Carolina will face College of Charleston on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena.
DUKE (6-2)—Mathias 7-9 2-2 16, Odom 3-11 0-0 6, Boykin 0-4 1-2 1, Brown 5-14 2-2 13, Greenwell 3-8 2-2 8, Treece 0-3 0-0 0, Williams 1-1 0-2 2, Faz Davalos 3-5 0-0 6, Adams 0-1 0-0 0, Gorecki 0-2 0-0 0, Suggs 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 22-58 7-10 52.
SOUTH CAROLINA (8-1)—Jennings 9-15 3-8 21, Wilson 8-16 2-5 18, Cliney 3-8 0-0 6, Harris 4-8 0-0 8, Jackson 2-5 0-0 4, Herbert Harrigan 3-4 2-2 8, Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Grissett 2-2 0-0 4, Patrick 1-4 0-0 3, Totals 32-63 7-15 72.
3-Point Goals—Duke 1-10 (Boykin 0-2, Brown 1-4, Greenwell 0-2, Treece 0-1, Gorecki 0-1), South Carolina 1-8 (Cliney 0-2, Harris 0-2, Jackson 0-1, Patrick 1-3). Assists—Duke 14 (Boykin 4), South Carolina 16 (Cliney 5). Fouled Out—Duke Mathias, Rebounds—Duke 26 (Mathias 6), South Carolina 40 (Wilson 11). Total Fouls—Duke 18, South Carolina 9. A—13,054.