Judging from her reaction on the court, A’ja Wilson didn’t seem to think much of her accomplishment Thursday night.
But in the record books and for the crowd at Colonial Life Arena, Wilson’s 2,000th career point in the first quarter of the Gamecocks’ 71-63 win against Auburn was very, very special.
With a jump shot 7:39 into Thursday’s contest with the Tigers, Wilson hit the 2K mark in her 120th career game, becoming only the fourth USC basketball player to hit the milestone — Sheila Foster and Shannon Johnson have done it for the women, while B.J. McKie did so for the men.
As soon as Wilson drained the jumper, the PA announcer notified the fans in the arena, who let out an appreciative roar. At the next stoppage in play, a graphic flashed on the scoreboard commemorating the stat. In both cases, Wilson merely smiled and laughed.
“It was great knowing she got that milestone,” fellow captain Tyasha Harris said of Wilson. “When everybody stood up and starting clapping, I was kind of confused, I was like, ‘What’s happening?’ Then somebody told me. But it’s amazing. She’s an amazing person, and I’m so happy that I get to play with her.”
But what should have been a celebratory night ended on a low note as Wilson had to be helped off the floor with 18 seconds left after turning her right ankle going for a rebound. Coach Dawn Staley said after the game that the injury is a sprain and she is not sure how long or even if Wilson will be sidelined..
Still, Wilson’s record was part of a torrid first quarter for USC (14-2, 3-1 SEC), which came out on fire after dropping an emotional and chippy contest to Missouri this past Sunday. After the first 10 minutes against Auburn, the Gamecocks led 30-10 on 73 percent shooting and had seemingly no trouble breaking the Tigers’ vaunted press defense, which entered the game ranked third in the country in turnovers forced per game.
From there, however, Auburn was nothing but trouble for South Carolina. After trailing by as many as 22 points in the first quarter, the Tigers closed to within seven at the start of the fourth quarter and outscored the Gamecocks through the game’s final 30 minutes, 53-41.
“We got overwhelmed and just started throwing the ball everywhere,” Harris said. “I think it was more of a mental thing, and fatigue, that got to us.”
In the second quarter, USC turned the ball over eight times after entering the game averaging just 12.3 per game. The Gamecocks finished the game with 20 turnovers.
“I thought we kind of just let our foot off the gas,” Staley said. “We got pretty complacent, turning the ball over, and any time you do that against an Auburn team, they feed off that. It’s like blood in the water — sharks are going to go for it, and they made us pay for it.”
On defense, South Carolina’s guards had no answer for the elusive and explosive Janiah McKay, Auburn’s top threat who finished with 27 points to lead all scorers. While Auburn shot just 37 percent overall, it stayed competitive in the rebounding battle and on points in the paint as the 5-foot-6 McKay frequently slashed to the basket, out-quicking taller defenders.
But in the end, the combined efforts of Harris and Wilson were enough to hold Auburn at bay. Both finished with double doubles: Harris had 12 points and 11 assists, while Wilson had 19 points and 11 rebounds. Fellow starter Alexis Jennings contributed nine points and seven rebounds.
“Great teams are able to put four quarters together,” Staley said. “We’re still a work in progress. Our team will continue to work at it. I think we have a good basketball team, I think they understand the times in which they aren’t effective. It’s just biting the bullet and making you feel like you want to do something extraordinary.”
South Carolina has a quick turnaround before it faces No. 6 Tennessee on Sunday at Colonial Life Arena. Tipoff for that game, which will be televised on ESPN2, is scheduled for 1 p.m.
“Treatment, treatment, treatment,” Harris said of how the team would solve its issues with fatigue in just a few days. “ ... And just staying mentally ready.”