No. 1 South Carolina women rolls past LSU, 75-51
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) South Carolina freshman A’ja Wilson is just now getting her first taste of competition in the Southeastern Conference. Based on early results, the rest of the league better look out.
Wilson had 21 points, a career-high 13 rebounds and blocked three shots to help No. 1 South Carolina win its school-record 14th straight game, 75-51 over LSU on Sunday.
”A’ja benefits from being on a team full of players who have experience in SEC play,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. ”She has great teammates who put her in a position to be successful. She can just be who she is and take her time to learn how to play at this level night in and night out.”
A 6-foot-5 freshman who doesn’t start but plays significant minutes off the bench, Wilson has scored in double figures in all but one game this season and has four double-doubles, including both of South Carolina’s league games, which began with a victory over Auburn on Friday.
”She’s got big-game capability and she really hasn’t even touched the surface on being a great player,” Staley said. ”She’s just playing within what we’re doing. I’d like to see her kind of deviate a little bit and get a little bit more aggressive on both sides of the ball.”
Tiffany Mitchell hit three of six 3-point attempts and finished with 17 points for the Gamecocks (14-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), whose only deficit was 2-0 before they scored the next eight points and led the rest of the way.
South Carolina shot 51 percent (27-of-53) and led by as much as 31 points while holding LSU (7-7, 1-1) to only 34 percent shooting (22 of 64).
DaShawn Harden led the Lady Tigers with nine points while Sheila Boykin had 11 rebounds.
LSU tried to slow down South Carolina by playing a collapsing zone defense that left the perimeter open. The Gamecocks hit eight 3-pointers and still managed 36 points inside to go with 13 points on free throws.
”We felt it was in our best odds to not overextend our defense and try to take away their paint points,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said. ”We did not execute what we’d been practicing.”
Caldwell added that Wilson ”was overpowering us.”
About mid-way through the first half, with South Carolina in the midst of a nearly three-minute scoreless span, Staley, the reigning SEC coach of the year, turned to her bench and yelled, ”When you’re wide open, shoot the ball. What are we waiting on?”
Soon after, the Gamecocks opened up a double-digit lead as their shooting percentage steadily improved from 44 to 50 percent during the final 7:23 of the period.
Wilson scored seven of her nine first-half points during that span, including a jumper and a pair of driving layups. Her free throw expanded South Carolina’s lead to 15 points, 37-22, at halftime.
”She is a great player but it comes back to us playing defense together,” LSU forward Stephanie Amichia said about Wilson. ”We let her get the ball where she wanted it and let her get the hot hand.”
South Carolina opened the second half on a 19-3 run to take its largest lead on Bianca Cuevas’ layup as she was fouled.
LSU never got within 24 points after that.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have hit five or more 3-pointers eight times this season. … South Carolina’s 1985-86 squad owned the previous school record for consecutive victories with 13. … Senior forward Aleighsa Welch, who left Friday night’s victory over Auburn with a neck injury, returned to action without missing a game and made three of her four shots for six points to go with five rebounds and a block.
LSU: The Lady Tigers own a 22-7 series lead but have lost three straight to South Carolina for the first time. … LSU was held 13.4 points below its season average of 64.4 points per game entering the contest.
SHARING THE BALL: South Carolina, which has totaled 20 assists eight times this season, was credited with 18 at LSU. Caldwell said her team, credited with only four assists, could learn from the way the Gamecocks play.
”We didn’t make the extra pass,” Caldwell said. ”We’ve got to be a much better team sharing the basketball.”
South Carolina: Visit Alabama on Thursday night.
LSU: Host Vanderbilt on Thursday night.