South Carolina women’s basketball remained perfect at home against Savannah State on Sunday with a 99-38 victory, but the No. 4 Gamecocks did not escape unscathed, as their already thin roster took a significant hit.
Before USC (10-1) even tipped off against the vastly overmatched Lady Tigers (2-7), it was announced that senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury to her left knee.
In the first quarter, junior guard Doniyah Cliney twice went to the bench limping. The second time, she went to the locker room, returning to the bench in the second quarter but never re-entering the game. Thankfully for Dawn Staley’s squad, Cliney’s injury is not serious and she is not expected to miss any more time.
“She was cleared to come back. Just after putting her back in the game after she hurt her ankle, (I) just didn’t want to take that chance,” Staley said after the game.
Without Cuevas-Moore, Cliney and the injured Lindsey Spann, South Carolina had just three healthy guards and eight players left on its roster. The news of Cuevas-Moore’s injury marred what was an easy win for USC, who went on a 12-0 run early and never looked back.
The Gamecocks started the contest with a slightly different lineup than it has used for most of this season, giving freshman forward Lele Grissett her first career start while sophomore guard Tyasha Harris began the game on the bench after she missed practice due to personal reasons.
“If you don’t prep to play, you can’t play your role. So we just had to keep it moving, and I thought she did a great job just coming off the bench and doing what Ty does,” Staley said. “ ... Lele’s coming along. Lele’s putting in extra work, and she’s carving out some space for us to play her.”
Grissett’s presence in the post allowed senior forward A’ja Wilson to play along the wing, and she responded with four made jump shots in the first quarter and her fourth and fifth 3-point attempts of the season, setting her career high. She ended the game with 26 points on 12-for-16 shooting, passing Tiffany Mitchell for fifth place on South Carolina’s career scoring list in the process.
“I was really nervous. The wing is kind of not my area. But to have Lele down there for me to expand my game out to the 3, I think that’s something good, that’s something that I’ve really been trying to work on,” Wilson said. “I did kind of miss the block. I was like, just put me in at the four, I miss that spot. But just to have the opportunity for Coach to trust me in that area, I think that’s a good thing.”
“A’ja scoring 26 points on 12 of 16 shooting, if that doesn’t make you comfortable, I don’t know what else will,” Staley joked. “But we will play her there. We will play her starting in the forward position and then slide her over. Because she’s a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams, not only at the forward but also playing her out on the perimeter as well. A’ja will do as she’s told, and she will excel at it.”
Harris, meanwhile, entered the game when Cliney first went to the bench and put together a complete performance, scoring 14 points, dishing out 12 assists, a career high, and swiping six steals, tying her career best.
“Coaches make those decisions, I’m just ready to go whenever they call my number,” Harris said. “Lele did a great job — we all did a great job. And 12 assists? I didn’t know that.”
Redshirt junior Alexis Jennings also added a double-double, scoring 10 points and pulling down 13 rebounds, while sophomore forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan rounded out the Gamecocks in double figures, scoring a career-high 21 points. All nine Gamecocks who played scored.
The victory also marked Staley’s 231st win at Carolina, tying the program record held by Nancy Wilson, but she seemed reluctant after the game to publicly savor the personal milestone.
“I mean, I came here 10 years ago to turn the program around and win a national championship. That got done with some incredible people, coaches, players, community, everybody. So I think it’s a tribute to what everybody has contributed to our program,” Staley said.
South Carolina travels to Staley’s hometown of Philadelphia to face Temple on Thursday at 7 p.m.
SAVANNAH ST. (2-7)—Sowell 1-5 1-2 3, Allen 1-9 4-4 6, Anderson 0-4 0-0 0, Moton 0-1 2-2 2, Scott 7-14 3-4 17, Gray 0-2 2-2 2, Vance 0-1 0-0 0, Gallishaw 1-3 0-0 2, Bartlett 2-6 2-3 6, Farmer 0-4 0-0 0, Russell 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 12-50 14-17 38.
SOUTH CAROLINA (10-1)—Jennings 4-7 2-2 10, Wilson 12-16 1-2 26, Cliney 2-2 0-0 4, Grissett 3-4 2-5 8, Jackson 1-8 2-2 5, Herbert Harrigan 7-10 7-7 21, Williams 2-3 1-3 5, Harris 6-8 1-2 14, Patrick 2-9 0-0 6, Totals 39-67 16-23 99.
3-Point Goals—Savannah St. 0-6 (Anderson 0-2, Scott 0-1, Farmer 0-3), South Carolina 5-17 (Wilson 1-2, Jackson 1-3, Herbert Harrigan 0-1, Harris 1-2, Patrick 2-9). Assists—Savannah St. 2 (Anderson 2), South Carolina 23 (Harris 12). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Savannah St. 32 (Sowell 6), South Carolina 38 (Jennings 13). Total Fouls—Savannah St. 18, South Carolina 12. A—13,345.