Dawn Staley seems to have found her starting lineup.
After cycling through six different groups in the early portion of the season, South Carolina women’s basketball cruised on the road Sunday, downing LSU 76-53.
The victory, USC’s eighth in a row, was led by the starting quintet of junior guard Tyasha Harris, redshirt senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper, junior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings, who were starting their second consecutive game together. Those five simply overwhelmed the Lady Tigers early, and the Gamecocks (12-4, 4-0 SEC) coasted from there to maintain their spot atop the SEC standings.
Carolina got off to an absolutely blazing start, shooting 77 percent from the field in the first quarter while tagging LSU for its most points allowed in any quarter all season. On the defensive side, the Gamecocks held the Lady Tigers to just 23.5 percent shooting to take a 29-11 lead.
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“When we play fast, we’re really good,” Staley told the SEC Network of the first quarter. “When we’re sharing the ball and the ball is touching everybody, we’re a hard team to guard.”
All five starters played at least nine minutes and scored at least three points in the first quarter. Herbert Harrigan led the group early with eight points and ended the evening with 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting, while Cooper had seven in the first period and finished with a team-high 14 points. Jennings led the starters in rebounding with seven boards to go with 10 points, while Harris led in assists with five helpers to go with six points.
Staley was particularly pleased with the play of her starting guards, all of whom can play the point or run off the ball.
“When those three, Te’a, Ty and Bianca, have it clicking, we can be a feared backcourt,” Staley told the SEC Network. “I think they work well together. ... They’re gaining some chemistry, some game much-needed chemistry.”
The Gamecocks cooled off slightly in the second quarter as the reserves began to take over, but they still extended their lead to 22 points at halftime.
Throughout the second half, LSU actually kept things even with Carolina, only getting outscored 31-30. After making its first four 3-point attempts, USC shot 3-for-15 from distance to finish, while the Lady Tigers rallied to shoot 52 percent from the field after the break.
“That was due to LSU just applying a little more pressure. I think we took our foot off the gas and we allowed them to get back into the game,” Staley told the SEC Network.
Every available player for USC got in the game, and after LSU started the fourth quarter on an 8-1 run, a late surge led by redshirt senior Nelly Perry, who had five points in the final four minutes, sealed the victory.
Star of the game: Cuevas-Moore only played 16 minutes but was brutally efficient in doing so, scoring nine points with a perfect shooting night of 2-for-2 from the field, 1-for-1 from 3 and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. She also added three steals, a rebound and an assist to boot. Not bad for a player who told the SEC Network she didn’t even want to play the sport last year while recovering from a knee injury.
Stat of the game: LSU entered Sunday averaging 51.1 points allowed per game, a top-10 mark in the country. South Carolina nearly had that by halftime and surpassed it just a little over halfway through the third quarter.
Play of the game: With less than a minute left to play in the first quarter, Herbert-Harrigan dished in a layup off an assist from Harris to cap a 9-0 run and give the Gamecocks firm control.
Another hot start: After sprinting to an early 19-0 lead against Florida in its last game, South Carolina wasn’t quite as unstoppable to begin Sunday’s game but still took a 9-0 lead to start. With a strong surge to end the first quarter, the Gamecocks have outscored their last two opponents 53-20 in the first 10 minutes.
Battle on the boards: Offensive rebounds were the only area where the Lady Tigers had an edge in the first half, with half of their 14 boards coming off the offensive glass. However, they were only able to covert those rebounds into four second-chance points.
The Gamecocks travel to Starkville for a showdown with No. 7 Mississippi State on Thursday at 7 p.m. USC and MSU are the only teams in the SEC still unbeaten in conference play.