Win No. 232 is in the books.
Dawn Staley’s return home to Philadelphia was a triumphant one, as South Carolina women’s basketball (11-1) powered its way to an 87-60 win against Temple on Thursday, giving its coach sole possession of the program record for victories.
“It’s a great thing. It’s a thing you pay tribute to all the people who contribute to it,” Staley said of the record. “I’ve had some great staff over the 10 years I’ve been at South Carolina, some tremendous players, a community and the people that supported us, our fans, have made it an incredible ride. They made this number, they made us get to this number, quicker than probably imaginable, because of the atmosphere they create, the home-court advantage they create for this team.”
Like many USC wins in the past few years, Thursday’s game was dominated by senior forward A’ja Wilson, who got in on the record-breaking, establishing new South Carolina career records for free throws made and attempted while collecting 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks.
Wilson kicked off the game’s scoring with her third 3-pointer of the season, and the Gamecocks never looked back, leading 26-9 after the first quarter. The lead never went below 17 again, and freshman Bianca Jackson doubled her previous career high with 16 points, while sophomore Tyasha Harris collected her third double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 assists.
The victory, however, really belonged to Staley, who capped off a busy three-day stretch that included giving a national championship trophy replica to her childood rec center and getting her childhood street named after her by claiming USC’s wins record against the team she first coached for and celebrating as one of her former Temple players, Candice Dupree, had her jersey number retired at halftime.
“Philadelphia is a city that loves on so many levels. To come back here and to share in these moments is truly worthwhile,” Staley said of the pregame honors and festivities.
On the floor, however, Staley was all business, and her players strived to follow her example.
“In our team huddle, I just said, ‘This one’s for Coach,’ ” Wilson said. “This was kind of her homecoming ceremony, so we wanted to put it on, but still stay within our system. We didn’t want to go to crazy. It’s what we do. We stayed within our system, came here, got the win.”
“It’s just a lot of distractions and knowing that we came here earlier than we usually do for a road game, all the hoopla surrounding the trophy and the renaming of the street, it is a distraction,” Staley said. “But we’ve played in Final Fours and we played in the national championship game, so to be able to compartmentalize those instances, we can really draw on it.”
The potential distractions, however, continued all the way onto the hardwood — Staley drew cheers during the pregame introductions equal or greater to those for the woman who replaced her as Temple’s head coach, her former college teammate Tonya Cardoza. The two hugged and spoke before tipoff.
“It’s ironic how it all plays out,” Staley said. “I think it was just great to have Candice’s jersey retired, to come back and share in the national championship with the recreation center I grew up with, playing Temple, it being Tonya Cordoza, it just seemed like it was the perfect fit for today.”
“To see the city pull for her and really stand behind her, that’s awesome,” Cardoza said of Staley. “Because that doesn’t really happen a lot. For a female in Philly, that’s a big deal.”
Ultimately, however, USC was nearly unstoppable even with only nine healthy available players, as every starter reached double figures in scoring and the Gamecocks shot 53 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3.
Temple did manage to rally somewhat in the second half, getting outscored only 41-40 over the final two quarters, after the Owls retreated to their locker room at halftime and the Gamecocks stayed on the sideline for Dupree’s halftime ceremony.
“No matter what the score was, we had to again compartmentalize, and I thought we needed to share in that joyous moment, because hopefully some of (our players) will be in that same predicament of seeing their jersey retired,” Staley said of the decision to have the entire team witness the ceremony.
Staley was also recognized during the ceremony and spoke with Dupree, a WNBA All-Star, as her name and number were lowered on a banner from the rafters. Several of Staley’s other former players also sat courtside for the game.
“It’s just great seeing Coach out there and how her city really gave back everything she gave to them. And Coach, she does a lot for us, she does a lot for her city, so just to go out there and see them pay it back in that way, it was a great feeling,” Wilson said.
South Carolina now goes on a 10-day break before returning to play Dec. 31 against Texas A&M to open SEC play at home.
SOUTH CAROLINA (11-1)—Jennings 5-9 0-0 10, Wilson 10-15 7-12 28, Cliney 5-9 0-0 11, Harris 6-12 0-0 13, Jackson 6-8 0-0 16, Grissett 1-5 0-3 2, Herbert Harrigan 3-6 0-0 7, Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Patrick 0-3 0-0 0, Totals 36-67 7-15 87.
TEMPLE (8-4)—Davis 6-15 4-5 19, Atkinson 0-1 0-0 0, Atkinson 4-15 5-7 14, Mayo 4-12 2-2 13, Reynolds 2-12 0-0 5, Niang 0-3 0-0 0, Taylor 4-10 0-0 8, Jones 0-3 0-0 0, Mayo 0-1 0-0 0, Perry 0-3 1-2 1, Totals 20-75 12-16 60.
3-Point Goals—South Carolina 8-20 (Jennings 0-1, Wilson 1-2, Cliney 1-3, Harris 1-3, Jackson 4-6, Herbert Harrigan 1-2, Patrick 0-3), Temple 8-16 (Davis 3-3, Atkinson 1-3, Mayo 3-6, Reynolds 1-2, Niang 0-1, Perry 0-1). Assists—South Carolina 22 (Harris 11), Temple 8 (Atkinson 6). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—South Carolina 47 (Wilson 12), Temple 46 (Davis 10). Total Fouls—South Carolina 16, Temple 16. A—3,185.