With a stifling defensive effort early and plenty of offensive firepower in the frontcourt, No. 3 South Carolina women’s basketball moved on to the finals of the Gulf Coast Showcase on Saturday with a 76-58 win against St. John’s.
For the second consecutive game, senior forward A’ja Wilson helped lead the Gamecocks (6-0), racking up 17 points and 17 rebounds to rack up six double-doubles in as many games this season. Her fellow forward, redshirt junior Alexis Jennings, was right alongside her, however, with 25 points and four boards. Jennings, who transferred two years ago from Kentucky, had a previous season high of 12 points.
“My team needed me,” Jennings told The Associated Press. “My teammates, they just found me and I just did what I did, posted up, showed my numbers and they were able to get me the ball.”
After two consecutive games of allowing their opponents to stay close through a sluggish start, the Gamecocks powered away from the Red Storm early on Saturday, limiting St. John’s to 1 of 17 shooting in the first quarter while seizing a 22-6 lead. But the second quarter marked a dramatic slowdown in offense, as the two teams combined for just 16 points and USC failed to score for the first half’s final six minutes.
But Wilson, who spent the latter half of the quarter on the bench with two fouls, came back with a vengeance in the third quarter and collected 11 points to put the lead at 17 points. Jennings also added double figures in the second half and widened the rebound margin to 38-31. Jennings and Wilson were the only Gamecocks to score more than 8 points.
St. John’s managed to make things mildly interesting late in the game, closing to within 9 points with just over three minutes to play with 54.5 percent shooting in the final 10 minutes. But sophomore guard Tyasha Harris hit a late 3-pointer, Jennings completed a 3-point play and the Gamecocks pulled back ahead while inducing two of seven St. John’s players who got time on the court to foul out. In the final few moments of the game, USC coach Dawn Staley emptied her bench to get the reserves some playing time.
With the win, South Carolina advances to the finals of the tournament in Estero, Fla., where the Gamecocks will face the winner of Saturday night’s game between No. 17 South Florida and No. 6 Notre Dame.
In that game, Staley will have a chance at her 400th career win.
“I truly didn’t know,” Staley told the AP. “But what a way to do it, against some good competition tomorrow, either team.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Jennings doubled her career high in points. She doubled her season high.