COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) No. 7 South Carolina knew thin Texas A&M primarily relied on a six-player rotation, so the Gamecocks planned on pressuring the Aggies from the start.
”We just wanted to speed up the tempo, because they’re a team that’s well-coached,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. ”We didn’t want to give them an opportunity to pick us apart.”
For their part the home Aggies fell apart, as A’ja Wilson had 21 points and 15 rebounds and the Gamecocks beat A&M 80-64 on Thursday night to remain in Southeastern Conference title contention.
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The Gamecocks (23-4, 13-2) trailed the Aggies 30-29 with five minutes remaining in the second quarter before closing out the first half on a 12-5 run to make it 41-35. Bianca Cuevas-Moore had six of the Gamecocks’ 13 steals.
”The stat sheet can write the story without any comments,” said A&M coach Gary Blair, pointing to a handful of lopsided numbers. ”South Carolina played like a top five team. That’s the first time all year we’ve just been outclassed in a ball game.”
Scoring leader Danni Williams was held to 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting for the Aggies (19-9, 9-6). She entered averaging 17.7 points.
”Our guards came out very aggressive at the beginning of the game, and if we would have done that throughout, the outcome would have been better,” A&M guard Curtyce Knox said.
South Carolina played without starting center Alaina Coates, who stayed at home with a right ankle sprain and is considered day-to-day. Coates leads the Gamecocks with 11.2 rebounds and is second in scoring at 13.4.
”We instantly became a lot smaller than what we’re used to,” Staley said of missing the 6-4 Coates. ”We wanted to get as many points in the paint as possible, to put Texas A&M back on its heels a little bit. We didn’t want to lose Coates, but we felt good about the game plan coming in.”
The Gamecocks were coming off a 62-60 loss at No. 24 Missouri on Sunday. They are trying to win or share the SEC regular-season title for a fourth consecutive season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks got some good news at halftime, and it had nothing to do with what was going on in Reed Arena. No. 3 Mississippi State lost at No. 22 Kentucky earlier Thursday night, meaning the Gamecocks tied the Bulldogs for the SEC lead at 13-2 following their victory over the Aggies.
Texas A&M: The Aggies are reeling with three consecutive losses following four straight wins, but part of their problem of late has been because of their competition. A&M lost to the No. 3 team (Mississippi State) on Sunday, and the No. 7 team on Thursday in South Carolina.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
The Gamecocks held a 54-22 advantage on points in the paint, even without injured starting center Alaina Coates.
SHE SAID IT
”We just wanted our players to attack the paint. Sometimes you have to have an edge against a team like Texas A&M, especially on the road.” – Staley
A&M senior guard Curtyce Knox set the school’s single-season assist record. With her 10 assists, she has 266 in 28 games. Jordan Jones held the previous record with 261 in 2013-14.
The Gamecocks might move up at least a slot with No. 6 Texas losing consecutive games, including 70-67 against No. 4 Baylor on Monday in Austin.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks will close out a highly successful regular season at home on Sunday against Kentucky.
Texas A&M: The Aggies will close out their regular season by trying to snap a three-game losing streak on Sunday at Mississippi.