COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina started the game with just nine players, then lost another to an injury. With A’ja Wilson on their side, the fourth-ranked Gamecocks were more than fine.
Wilson scored 26 points and South Carolina, coming back from a 12-day break for exams, rushed to an early lead and beat Savannah State 99-38 Sunday.
South Carolina’s power forward for the past three years, Wilson displayed a deft touch on mid-range jumpers in a nearly flawless offensive day.
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”I think Alexis (Jennings) and I and all of our post players have the opportunity to shoot that 15-footer and expand the defense,” Wilson said.
The Gamecocks (10-1) announced before the game that senior point guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore will miss the season with an ACL injury. She hadn’t played this season, but was said to be recovering.
Senior guard Lindsey Spann missed her fourth straight game with a knee injury and Te’a Cooper remained out while appealing to the NCAA for a hardship waiver. The Gamecocks lost junior guard Doniyah Cliney to a foot injury in the first half.
Cliney is OK, and there was no need to put her back in the game. But the Gamecocks can’t afford to lose any more players.
”With injuries, it’s tough, because you don’t want to see any kid not be able to play, especially her senior year. But we have to keep it moving,” coach Dawn Staley said.
Point guard Ty Harris, not starting for the first time all season as Staley tried out a bigger lineup, had 14 points and 12 assists. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan scored 17 while Alexis Jennings posted another double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Wilson only played 26 minutes to give freshman forwards LeLe Grissett and LaDazhia Williams some valuable minutes. Grissett scored eight points and Williams had five.
Donasja Scott had 17 points for Savannah State (2-7).
The Gamecocks are hoping to have Spann and Cooper during SEC play, which begins Dec. 31. Cooper could know her fate within two weeks while Spann won’t play the next game, but could recover in a 10-day break after that before the conference opener.
South Carolina won the national championship last year with a nine-woman rotation, but as Staley and her players have consistently pointed out, this year’s team isn’t last year’s team.
”One thing I know about this team is we overcome adversity,” Wilson said. ”We know that we have to pick up a lot.”
The Gamecocks are likely to stay at No. 4 after No. 1 UConn was idle and Nos. 2-3 Notre Dame and Louisville won in routs.
Staley won her 231st game at South Carolina, tying Nancy Wilson for the most by any head coach in program history.
”I came here 10 years ago to turn the program around and win a national championship,” Staley said. ”I think it’s a tribute to what everybody has contributed to our program.”
Staley returns to her hometown and first collegiate coaching stop when South Carolina plays at Temple on Thursday.
Savannah State plays at East Carolina on Wednesday.