Coach Dawn Staley sounds off on NCAA’s Te’a Cooper decision
Records continue to fall for A’ja Wilson, and South Carolina women’s basketball continues to win, as the national Player of the Year favorite became just the second Gamecock to record 2,000 career points and 1,000 career rebounds and No. 9 USC thrashed Arkansas on Thursday, 90-42.
The result of the game was never in doubt, as the Gamecocks (17-3, 6-2 SEC) took the lead over the Razorbacks (11-10, 2-6 SEC) 11 seconds after the tip and never relinquished it, going as far ahead as 45 points in the third quarter.
“The first play of the game,” Wilson said of when she knew she and fellow forward Alexis Jennings would dominate against Arkansas’s smaller bigs. “It was post to post, I gave (Jennings) the ball, and to see her make those moves, I kind of knew that, ‘OK, this is the game we’re going to play.’ ”
So the crowd at Colonial Life Arena had to content themselves with watching Wilson, in her second game back from a sprained ankle, shred the Arkansas defense with a torrid first half in which she was on triple-double pace. She finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds for her 13th double-double of the year, to go along with seven blocks. In doing so, she also passed former teammate Tiffany Mitchell for the most career SEC points in South Carolina history.
“It doesn’t get old,” seeing Wilson continue to climb her way up the South Carolina record book, coach Dawn Staley said. “It kind of gets sad, because I’ve seen her grow and mature, and milestones come plentiful when you have that type of player like A’ja Wilson. And 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, they don’t come around very often, as you can see in our history book.”
Both Wilson and Jennings picked up right where they had left off in a ruthlessly efficient shooting performance against Kentucky last Sunday. Together, they combined to go 20-for-29 from the field, with Jennings going a perfect 9-for-9, scoring 22 points and posting her fifth double-double of the year.
“She’s playing great basketball,” Staley said of Jennings. “Each time she gets that ball with two feet in the paint, she’s extremely efficient. And I think she played off A’ja tonight and snuck in and got some rebounds and putbacks, and we got her the ball where she’s extremely effective. We just need her to continue to play that way.”
Even sophomore point guard Tyasha Harris got in on the rebounding bonanza. Before the first half was over, Harris had surpassed her career high of six boards, simply overwhelming an Arkansas team that was visibly smaller and overmatched. She finished with 13 rebounds, along with five points and six assists.
After the game, Harris and Wilson gave credit for their performances to each other.
“My teammates did a great job boxing out, and that was a big emphasis for the last two practices,” Harris said. “I have a bad habit of not boxing out, so when they box out, it was easy to go get the ball and scoop it.”
“It’s our point guard,” Wilson said of the key to her efficient shooting. “She is getting us the ball where we need it in the perfect spot, and it’s making it a lot easier for us.”
All told, the Gamecocks finished the game with a 61-31 rebounding edge while holding the Razorbacks to 27 percent shooting, the lowest by an SEC opponent against USC this season. Freshman Bianca Jackson also had a career night, scoring 16 points to tie the best mark of her rookie campaign while adding three rebounds, two assists and two steals.
However, Thursday was not completely a positive one for Dawn Staley’s program — shortly before tipoff, the Gamecocks announced that the NCAA had denied its waiver for transfer Te’a Cooper to become eligible this season.
Moving forward, South Carolina welcomes No. 11 Missouri to Colonial Life Arena on Sunday at 6 p.m., looking for revenge after falling to the Tigers on Jan. 7 on the road. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
ARKANSAS (11-10)—Williams 0-2 0-0 0, Zimmerman 1-4 0-0 2, Cosper 1-6 0-2 3, Mason 5-12 0-0 10, Monk 6-20 0-0 12, Stout 0-0 0-0 0, Thomas 1-6 0-0 2, Weaver 3-4 1-3 7, McClure 0-1 0-0 0, Northcross-Baker 0-3 0-0 0, Spangler 0-1 0-0 0, Swenson 1-8 3-5 6, Totals 18-67 4-10 42.
SOUTH CAROLINA (17-3)—Jennings 9-9 4-6 22, Wilson 11-19 5-6 27, Cliney 2-8 3-3 7, Harris 1-6 2-4 5, Jackson 5-14 4-5 16, Grissett 1-5 3-5 5, Williams 2-5 0-0 4, Patrick 1-9 1-2 4, Totals 32-75 22-31 90.
3-Point Goals—Arkansas 2-16 (Williams 0-1, Zimmerman 0-3, Cosper 1-4, Mason 0-2, Thomas 0-1, Swenson 1-5), South Carolina 4-20 (Wilson 0-1, Cliney 0-1, Harris 1-4, Jackson 2-7, Patrick 1-7). Assists—Arkansas 5 (Cosper 2), South Carolina 17 (Harris 6). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Arkansas 31 (Thomas 6), South Carolina 62 (Wilson 13). Total Fouls—Arkansas 25, South Carolina 12. A—12,844.
Greg Hadley: @GregHadley9