COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) A’ja Wilson’s milestone night seemed to be spoiled with a few seconds left when the South Carolina All-American came up hobbling beneath the basket.
Worried that her senior season might be hampered by injury? No, said teammate Tyasha Harris.
”She was the same happy-go-lucky,” Harris said, smiling. ”That’s how she is.”
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Wilson had 19 points and 11 rebounds in No. 9 South Carolina’s 71-63 victory over Auburn on Thursday night.
There was a hush in the loud crowd as Wilson was down on the court and, with help, hobbled into the locker room. South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said Wilson sprained her ankle after stepping on someone’s foot and would probably need a day off from practice to get ready to face No. 6 Tennessee on Sunday.
”We’ll see how it is,” Staley said. ”She could probably take a day off and still play.”
Wilson and the defending national champion Gamecocks (14-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) rebounded from their first SEC loss of the season Sunday at Missouri to win their eighth straight over the Tigers (10-6, 1-3). Not that it was easy.
Auburn whittled a 22-point second-quarter deficit to 62-56 on Janiah McKay’s jumper with 5:36 to play. But that’s when Harris responded with five straight points to rebuild the double-digit edge.
Wilson, the 6-foot-5 senior, had her worst showing of the year at Mizzou, fouling out in just 19 minutes and finishing with a season-low eight points. But she was active from the start of this one – she made two of her team’s first three baskets and assisted on the other – as South Carolina opened a 30-10 edge by the end of the first quarter. Her two made foul shots with 1:13 left in the opening period pushed her to 2,000 career points over four seasons, leaving her behind only Shelia Foster (2,226 points) and Shannon Johnson (2,230) in Gamecocks history.
Before someone explained, Harris wasn’t sure why everyone was cheering Wilson’s foul shots that gave her the milestone.
”I call her my safehouse,” said Harris, the team’s starting point guard.
Harris was the only other South Carolina player in double figures with 12 points.
McKay led Auburn with 27 points and Daisa Alexander had 16.
Auburn: It’s still a struggle against the SEC’s better teams for the Tigers. After losing to ranked teams Texas A&M and Tennessee, Auburn fell behind South Carolina by 20 points in the opening quarter and could never catch up. McKay had 15 points in the first two quarters, with the rest of her teammates totaling 10. Auburn will have to find some consistent scoring from someone other than McKay if it hopes to move up in the league.
South Carolina: For anyone wondering if an SEC loss last game would rattle Wilson and the Gamecocks, they tossed those worries aside early. Things will get harder Sunday against sixth-ranked Tennessee.
IN THE BALLPARK
Staley liked her team’s start, just not its final three quarters. Staley said when the Gamecocks get up early, they can lose focus and look to make stunning, ooh-and-ahh, no-look passes and long 3-pointers. ”We try to swing for the fences and hit home runs,” she said. ”Singles are fine. Doubles are fine.”
Auburn’s rally got a big boost late in the third quarter with a seven-point possession. Alexander hit a 3-pointer as Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan was called for a foul away from the ball, and McKay hit both those foul shots. A foul by Harris right after sent Alexander to the line for two more made free throws, cutting South Carolina’s 55-41 lead to 55-48 in a 20-second span.
Auburn ends a brutal run of three consecutive ranked opponents when it plays Arkansas at home Sunday.
South Carolina faces its third ranked opponent in five games when it faces No. 6 Tennessee at home.
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