BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) South Carolina coach Dawn Staley left little room for interpretation while speaking to Alaina Coates before the Gamecocks visited resurgent LSU, telling the powerful 6-foot-4 center that ”no one in the gym” could guard her.
Coates proved Staley right, scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, and No. 5 South Carolina again overcame the absence of All-American A’ja Wilson, beating LSU 84-61 on Sunday.
”I did feel like I had a dominant presence down in the paint,” Coates said. ”I feel like I was able to convert when I did go to the free throw line.”
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Coates scored 18 of her points in the first half – eight on 11 foul shots – en route to her 53rd career double-double.
”We had the make a concerted effort to get her the ball,” Staley said. ”She also has to make a concerted effort to get open. She just imposed her will. Her teammates did a great job of finding her … and she delivered.”
Allisha Gray scored 21, and Bianca Cuevas-Moore added 17 points for South Carolina (15-1, 5-0 Southeastern Conference). The Gamecocks have won nine straight.
Chloe Jackson scored 24 for LSU (14-4, 3-2), which lost for the first time in four games. Raigyne Moncrief added 13 points, but lamented that her team gave South Carolina too many early opportunities to gain confidence and momentum.
”We didn’t play any defense,” Moncrief said. ”We started to turn the ball over. They got transition points … Once the energy got in their hands, it was over.”
LSU coach Nikki Fargas said she hoped to limit Coates’ production by having her guards and wing players deny the Gamecocks’ physically imposing center the ball. But the Lady Tigers were too slow to recognize trapping opportunities and South Carolina kept finding passing lanes to Coates.
”We’ve got to pay close attention to how the ball gets to players like her,” Fargas said. ”We didn’t do a great job of disrupting the ball-handler.”
FLIPPING THE SCRIPT
LSU entered the weekend leading the nation in steals with 240. Staley has been known to remind her team that opponents who are adept at something find it unsettling when that something is done to them. South Carolina combined for 12 steals to LSU’s eight.
South Carolina converted 18 LSU turnovers into 20 points. The Lady Tigers had just 10 points off of 16 Gamecocks turnovers.
”We were well prepared for whatever they threw at us,” Staley said.
The Gamecocks, who shot 57 percent (29 of 51), trailed by no more than two points and never trailed after Cuevas-Moore’s jumper tied it at 11 half way through the first period. The basket marked the beginning of an 18-7 run that put South Carolina in command.
THE BIG PICTURE
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are adjusting to playing without the 6-5 Wilson, securing a convincing road victory in their second game without her after narrowly winning at home against Georgia on Thursday night. ”It’s a great thing for our team to be in this adverse situation,” Staley said. ”We’re getting better because we’re going to be more versatile being able to play a lot of different ways because of our experience dealing with A’ja’s injury.” Yet, it doesn’t look like Wilson’s right ankle sprain will sideline her long. She traveled to LSU and wore warm-ups and her basketball shoes during the game, putting full weight on both feet and standing in team huddles during breaks. Staley called Wilson ”day-to-day” and added, grinning, ”She doesn’t like when we get better without her. It makes her ankle heal a little bit quicker.”
LSU: Seeing how South Carolina nearly lost to Georgia without Wilson, the Lady Tigers saw a chance to score an upset that likely would have lifted them into the AP Top 25 for the first time since Feb. 23, 2014. ”The same players that played against Georgia played against us,” Moncrief said. ”We’ve just got to play better.” All LSU losses have come against ranked opponents, including three to top-five squads (including No. 1 UConn and No. 4 Mississippi State).
South Carolina hosts Mississippi on Thursday night.