When A’ja Wilson went to the bench midway through the first quarter of South Carolina’s road contest against Alabama on Thursday with two fouls, Gamecock fans had to have had an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu.
When USC played at Missouri on Jan. 7, Wilson had to sit early due to foul trouble, and the Tigers exploited her absence for an 83-74 win.
But while the Crimson Tide (14-10, 4-7 SEC) gave the Gamecocks (19-5, 8-3 SEC) a little trouble early on, Wilson and her team recovered for a 79-66 win to snap their first losing streak since 2013.
Wilson even managed to hit an especially unique milestone in a senior season full of them, passing her coach Dawn Staley’s collegiate total of 2,135 points from her time at Virginia. Wilson now has 2,142 for her career, ranking her among the top 250 players in NCAA history.
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Still, Staley wasn’t exactly thrilled with her team’s performance.
“I thought we had a lackluster night,” she said on the SEC Network soon after the final whistle. “We have to find a way to put some energy into our basketball team. And we’ll do that with practice. We had a short week this week, we only got in one practice yesterday, so I guess we didn’t put enough emphasis on this pretty good Alabama team that loves to offensive rebound.”
Early on, it did look as though South Carolina was experiencing a competitive hangover after three straight games against top 15 teams. Alabama seized control from the opening tip, using a dominant edge on the offensive boards and a strong performance off the bench from Jasmine Walker to race to an 18-11 lead in just under seven minutes of play.
That seven-point lead didn’t make it to the end of the first quarter, however, as sophomore guard Tyasha Harris led a 10-2 run with seven points in the first 10 minutes to give the Gamecocks a 21-20 lead going into the break.
From there on out, South Carolina asserted itself with authority, shooting 51 percent from the field, with all but one player scoring. Harris finished with 17 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists, while Wilson returned to put up 21 points and 9 rebounds in just 25 minutes of play.
Alabama, meanwhile, shot 35 percent from the field for the game, but the Crimson Tide were able to prevent the contest from ever becoming an all-out rout, in large part because of its edge in offensive rebounds, 19-8.
“It’s effort. Boxing out and rebounding is not a skill, it’s effort,” Staley said on the SEC Network of how USC could improve that margin moving forward. “And we have to put in a lot more effort in what we’re doing. We’re only giving one effort, if that. We got to find a way to get two or three or four efforts, as many efforts as our opponents are giving us.”
Alabama won the overall rebounding battle, 42-36 and closed to within single digits late in the fourth quarter, only for Wilson to reel off four quick points to restore the double-digit advantage.
Staley also criticized her team for its 12-to-9 turnover-to-assist ratio. Alabama had 9 and 10, respectively.
“We have to get better at sharing the basketball. Things that we did very early on in the season, I think this last week of play, we got away from it,” Staley said. “We got to just going one-and-one and trying to make an impact ourselves rather than utilizing each other.”
South Carolina returns home to play Florida this Sunday at 1 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.