With three true freshman starters, No. 8 South Carolina women’s basketball went all in on its youth to open the season Tuesday at Colonial Life Arena.
The result was a sloppy start but a historic finish, as the Gamecocks routed Alabama State 103-43 and freshman forward Aliyah Boston recorded the program’s seventh ever triple-double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. It is also the first by a USC freshman.
“The triple double is a triple double no matter when it occurs — high school, junior high, college,” coach Dawn Staley said. “I thought she was pretty active out there blocking shots and getting rebounds, a lot of them were her own, but she’s got a promising future, and this is just the tip of the iceberg for her.”
After a tighter-than-expected 17-11 lead through one quarter, Staley’s team roared to life, outscoring the Hornets 62-22 over the second and third quarters to completely put the game away. In particular, a 25-2 burst in the third quarter turned the contest from surprisingly back-and-forth into a one-sided affair.
“Honestly, we pushed the ball, we got good shots up, everyone was hitting, we did great on defense,” Boston said of the late surge. “It was just amazing.”
All that was left in the fourth quarter was for Boston to collect her record-breaking 10th swat, which she did 6:25 to play, exiting to a standing ovation.
Things took time to get going early though — the Hornets didn’t score for nearly five minutes, but the Gamecocks made just four of their first 13 field goal attempts. ASU also stayed competitive on the boards despite an obvious size disadvantage.
“I think that we need to work on executing in transition a little better,” Boston said when asked what USC can do better moving froward. “I think we did great, I just think there’s just room for improvement on that, and then just continuing to communicate with each other on the offensive end, as well as the defensive end.”
But South Carolina’s superior length and talent in the post could not be denied — Boston racked up five points and four rebounds by the end of the first quarter, while senior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan added 13 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
The Gamecocks also got double-digit scoring effort from four different guards, including 11 points, five rebounds and four assists from senior guard Tyasha Harris. All told, USC’s five freshmen combined for 45 points in a complete team effort.
“This is the makeup of this team, how they operated all game long. They are generally happy for each other, and I can’t wait until we’re able to continue this kind of championship behavior. Because that’s exactly what it is,” Staley said.
Now South Carolina will have to turn its attention to a much tougher opponent — No. 4 Maryland on the road. With that contest coming as the second game in the season, Staley used Tuesday night as an opportunity to experiment and test her youngsters.
“We’re trying to get our younger players up to speed, so to speak, and sometimes we like to take ... experience off the floor just to see if they would swim or sink,” Staley said. “And we have to put them in those situations where they gain some experience and mainly experience before we go in and play a team like Maryland.”
And one: Local walk-on freshman Olivia Thompson got into the game midway through the fourth quarter and wasted no time in making an impact, scoring 10 points in a three-minute stretch, much to the delight of the crowd.
Personal foul: The shooting was sloppy early with a 31.6% shooting percentage in the first quarter. Boston especially took advantage of Alabama State’s lack of height by collecting her own misses with ease. That won’t fly against taller, better opponents.
Tip-in: Every Gamecock scored in the contest, and South Carolina set a record for most points in a season opener.
Who: No. 8 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Maryland
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Xfinity Center, College Park, Maryland
ALABAMA ST. (0-1): Clark 0-2 0-0 0, Crawford 2-13 0-0 4, Emmanuel 3-17 5-5 12, Lee 2-6 0-0 4, Smith 3-10 5-10 11, Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Randle 1-4 0-0 2, Harvey 2-2 0-0 4, Aikerson 0-3 0-0 0, Howard 0-0 0-0 0, White 1-11 4-6 6, Totals 14-69 14-21 43.
SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0): Boston 3-8 6-8 12, Herbert Harrigan 3-7 6-6 13, Beal 1-5 1-2 4, Cooke 5-14 3-3 13, Harris 5-10 1-1 11, Amihere 2-3 2-4 6, Saxton 3-5 3-6 9, Wesolek 3-3 0-0 7, Grissett 5-6 0-2 10, Henderson 3-7 0-0 8, Thompson 4-7 0-0 10, Totals 37-75 22-32 103.
Halftime—43-24. 3-Point Goals—Alabama St. 1-7 (Crawford 0-3, Emmanuel 1-1, Lee 0-1, Aikerson 0-2), South Carolina 7-16 (Herbert Harrigan 1-1, Beal 1-2, Cooke 0-3, Harris 0-1, Wesolek 1-1, Henderson 2-3, Thompson 2-5). Assists—Alabama St. 4 (Crawford 1), South Carolina 22 (Harris 4). Fouled Out—Alabama St. Clark, Nelson, Harvey, Rebounds—Alabama St. 43 (Smith 8), South Carolina 53 (Boston 12). Total Fouls—Alabama St. 27, South Carolina 18. Technical Fouls—Alabama St. Clark 1,A—10,586.