Through one quarter Sunday, No. 4 South Carolina had simply had no answer on defense for mighty Wofford.
Facing the Terriers (1-2) at Colonial Life Arena, the Gamecocks (4-0) struggled out of the gate, giving their home fans some early anxiety, before pulling away with a powerful second quarter and coasting the rest of the way to secure a 94-60 win.
“I did not like the way we started the game off,” senior forward A’ja Wilson said afterward. “We did not start off the way we should and the way we normally do, and it kinda ticked me off. We pushed through the (first) half ... and we just kinda flipped the switch. We understood that we had to go out there and do us and stay within our system.”
Coach Dawn Staley was also less than pleased with the game’s first 10 minutes, in which Wofford shot 47 percent and held the normally prolific 3-point offense of the Gamecocks off the board. At the end of the quarter, the score stood 24-20 in favor of the underdogs.
“A team like that, you’re going to take their best punch,” Staley said. “And they did a great job of hitting shots, they did a great job of pushing us back on our heels. Obviously we were not ready for that kind of play. I don’t know what we were anticipating, but when a team gets that hot, you gotta throw the book at them defensively.”
After a 66-36 win against Clemson on Thursday, Staley said her team lacked discipline at times despite thrashing their rivals, and some of the same problems seemed to resurface Sunday, as the Terriers made seven of their last nine field goal attempts of the quarter. South Carolina entered the game holding opponents to 51 points per contest and just 30 percent shooting.
But USC came out of the break clearly determined to set things straight and outscored Wofford 29-10 before the end of the first half. The rest of the game proceeded as most thought it would before it started: Wilson collected her fourth consecutive double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds, redshirt senior guard Lindsey Spann heated up from 3 and the entirety of South Carolina’s rotation got playing time, with all but one scoring.
“With this team, I try to put things in perspective,” Staley said of her halftime speech to her players. “This is our third game in seven days, and it’s hard for our team, we’re challenged when it comes to being mentally tough (in terms of) practicing, our approach to it. And we gotta get better, because it doesn’t get easier.”
All told, six Gamecocks scored in double figures. Wilson led the team in points and rebounds while adding five blocks, Spann chipped in 12 points and eight assists, and sophomore guard Tyasha Harris had 13 points and 3 assists. Junior guard Doniyah Cliney and sophomore forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan added 10 and 12 points, respectively.
But it was redshirt junior forward Alexis Jennings who was South Carolina’s best player in the early going, recording eight points and three rebounds in the first quarter to account for most of the team’s offense. She finished with 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting and six rebounds.
“My teammates just found me, and I was able to get a deep post up on their post players,” Jennings said of her first quarter. “So I did what I did best and went up strong, and I’m glad I was able to finish in the first quarter.”
The Gamecocks have the rest of the week off before traveling to Estero, Florida, to face Rutgers in the first round of the Gulf Coast Showcase on Friday. After that, they will play two more games on the weekend, potentially finishing with a matchup against No. 6 Notre Dame. And in Staley’s mind, Sunday’s performance will not be enough in the future.
“We’ve got three games in a row we need to play Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and if we’re not any better, we could see our first defeat — or defeats — next weekend,” Staley said.