COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) A’ja Wilson was not conceding anything, even with No. 4 South Carolina trailing by 11 points with 12 minutes to go.
The Gamecocks’ 6-foot-5 senior told her teammates the game was far from over, despite No. 22 Texas A&M holding a 47-36 lead and stellar freshman Chennedy Carter on a third-quarter scoring tear.
”It’s not a situation I was comfortable with,” Wilson said of the double-digit deficit. ”But there was never a doubt.”
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She proved that as the All-American led a fourth-quarter rally and hit the game-winning shot with 1.3 seconds left that lifted the Gamecocks to a drama-filled, 61-59 victory in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Sunday.
”I knew my teammates,” Wilson said. ”I knew what we were capable of and we just had to do us.”
That included a couple of timely calls against the Aggies (11-4, 0-1 SEC) – a 10-second, timeline violation on one possession and a double-dribble call on Danni Williams as she tried to gather in the ball for a breakaway layup with 5 seconds left and the game tied at 59-all.
The Gamecocks followed with the inbounds to Wilson, who dribbled across the lane and banked home the winning bucket.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has ”got some work to do. She knows it,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. ”She got away with one at home.”
Staley couldn’t disagree, saying the double-dribble call was probably ”one of those Colonial Life Arena ghosts.”
No matter who, it capped a hard, hard challenge for the defending national champions.
Carter, who had an Aggies record 46 points against Southern Cal, finished with 36 – 19 in the third quarter – against the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks (12-1) looked like they were finished as the Aggies (11-4) took a 47-36 lead on Chennedy Carter’s 3-pointer with 2:32 to play in the third quarter. But South Carolina, behind their 6-foot-5 All-American in Wilson, used a 15-2 spurt to go up 51-49.
Texas A&M was not done. Williams’ jumper with 1:05 to go gave the Aggies a final lead, 59-57, before Wilson tied things with a short jumper in the lane.
Doniyah Cliney had a career high 16 points and Wilson added 15 rebounds, four assists and three blocks as the Gamecocks won their fifth straight over Texas A&M.
THE BIG PICTURE
Texas A&M: The Aggies have relied on Carter to make things happen this season. She pushed the issue early, forcing several missed shots as she tried to penetrate South Carolina’s tall, long defenders. Carter was 6 of 18 in the opening half. The freshman will need to play under control if Texas A&M wants to compete in the SEC this season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks are a different team with Wilson on the bench. South Carolina was in control and cruising, ahead 25-13 with Wilson dominating underneath. Once she picked up her second foul midway through the second quarter, the Gamecocks offense went with her. South Carolina managed just two points in the last eight minutes before the half.
The bad ending was all too familiar for Blair, who lost his last game here 59-58 when Shlonte Allen inexplicably fouled South Carolina’s Khadijah Sessions after the Aggies had tied the game in the final moments. This time, it was two turnovers in the final moments of a tie game that led to South Carolina’s win. ”I’m tired of losing games like this,” Blair said.
South Carolina guard Lindsey Spann, a graduate transfer from Penn State, returned to action after missing the past five games with a knee injury. Spann played 11 minutes and had a 3-pointer and a steal. Staley said Spann could’ve have played more, but they wanted to limit her time after not playing the past month.
Texas A&M heads home to face Kentucky on Thursday night.
South Carolina plays its first SEC road game at Ole Miss on Thursday night.