At the end of a long week, the South Carolina women’s basketball team secured a victory that took the full 40 minutes.
The seventh-ranked Gamecocks had to hold off feisty Florida to grab a 64-57 win before a crowd of 15,385 at Colonial Life Arena.
USC (20-5, 9-3 SEC) trailed by as many as 10 in the second quarter and had its advantage trimmed to four with under seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter. That’s when Tyasha Harris, representing a guard unit that’s now thinner thanks to Lindsey Spann’s season-ending injury, came alive.
“I knew I came out a little bad, a little shaky the first two quarters,” said Harris, who made two of nine field goal attempts in the first half. “So I kind of just took it upon myself. My teammates, they helped me too, because I got a little down on myself and they just gave me more and more confidence.”
Harris stuck a 3 with 4:54 left to put Carolina up nine. She did the same on the Gamecocks’ next possession to push the advantage to 10. Her layup at the 3:06 mark gave USC a 62-50 lead, more than enough breathing room against a Gators team hovering above the SEC cellar.
Harris finished with 18 points and six assists as UF dropped to 10-15 overall and 2-10 in league play.
“I told her to keep shooting, stay confident,” said Carolina coach Dawn Staley. “Because if she stopped shooting when she was 2 for 9 from the floor, we’d lose this game. I want her to shoulder her not taking shots. ‘If you take good shots, they’re bound to go in because those are places in which you’re familiar.’ And that’s what she did.”
Harris’ effort – combined with A’ja Wilson’s 17th double-double this season (22 points, 11 rebounds) – allowed the Gamecocks to go 2-1 this week. Sunday’s game was their third in six days.
It easily could have ended on a down note.
Florida, which hasn’t won since Jan. 21, went on a 15-0 run in the second quarter. The Gators led 28-18 with 4:09 left in the half. They took advantage of the four minutes Staley chose to rest Wilson.
“With someone as good as A’ja, you’re going to feel her, the void when she’s off the floor,” Staley said. “She has earned that. And obviously we’re thin. We’re thin and young, and that’s what we’re gonna be.
“But we hung in there and took their best hit, we handled it, and we won the game.”
Wilson put the exclamation point on USC’s 12-2 run that ended the second quarter with a game-tying layup before the buzzer. The Gamecocks then opened the second half by scoring the first eight points.
“The turning point in the game, although Florida kept getting back in it, was our adjustment at halftime, just going to a zone (defense),” Staley said. “I thought their man plays bothered us because they kept having us run around and around and we’d get hung up on screens and they’d get open looks.
“I thought we just changed the tempo of how they wanted to play and just disrupted coming out of halftime.”
Florida connected on nine 3s, including Funda Nakkasoglu’s swish with 6:59 left that cut Carolina’s lead to 52-48.
Nakkasoglu led the Gators with 21 points.
“Very proud of our effort,” said UF coach Cameron Newbauer. “Tremendous effort for us to come into this environment on the road in front of that many people against the No. 7 team in the country.
“I thought we did a terrific job making them uncomfortable. Hats off to them and Ty Harris for making some big, big shots when they had to.”
Staley credited USC’s weekend interactions with the United States national team for the extra energy down the stretch. Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins were among the Team USA members in attendance Sunday.
“I thought we were rejuvenated,” Staley said. “I think it helped to have the U.S. national team here so they could see. And I talked to them a little bit about that after this game.
“Our players get so dejected if they miss a shot or they turn the ball over. And I’m like, ‘Did you ever see that happen this weekend with those players? They turn the page quickly because they know the game is so fast, you can get it back. Those players are looking for opportunity for momentum.’ ”
USC returns to action Thursday at No. 18 Georgia.
SOUTH CAROLINA 64, FLORIDA 57
FLORIDA (10-15): Hersler 2-11 0-0 5, Lorenzen 6-10 0-0 13, Anderson 4-11 0-0 10, Nakkasoglu 8-14 0-0 21, Washington 3-15 2-2 8, Hayes 0-1 0-0 0, Thomas 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 0-2 0-0 0, Totals 23-64 2-2 57.
SOUTH CAROLINA (20-5): Jennings 3-7 0-0 6, Wilson 11-17 0-0 22, Cliney 4-5 3-4 12, Harris 7-18 0-0 18, Jackson 1-8 0-0 3, Grissett 0-4 1-2 1, Herbert Harrigan 0-4 2-2 2, Patrick 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 26-63 6-8 64.
Halftime: 30-30. 3-Point Goals: Florida 9-29 (Hersler 1-8, Lorenzen 1-2, Anderson 2-8, Nakkasoglu 5-8, Washington 0-2, Johnson 0-1), South Carolina 6-13 (Wilson 0-1, Cliney 1-2, Harris 4-6, Jackson 1-4). Assists: Florida 15 (Washington 6), South Carolina 18 (Harris 6). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Florida 39 (Washington 11), South Carolina 38 (Wilson 11). Total Fouls: Florida 9, South Carolina 10. Technical Fouls: None. Attendance: 15,385.