TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) A South Carolina team that had struggled offensively against two of its biggest national title challengers didn’t have any such problems early against Alabama.
A’ja Wilson scored 21 points and had nine rebounds to lead No. 7 South Carolina to a 79-66 victory over the Crimson Tide on Thursday night.
The Gamecocks (19-5, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) shot 67 percent in the first half to build a 15-point lead. The defending national champions were coming off losses against the nation’s top two teams, No. 1 UConn and No. 2 Mississippi State, but were in control against the Tide (14-10, 4-7) over the final three quarters of this one.
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The goal for this game, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said, was ”just try to get back on the winning side of things.”
”Just clean up some things that didn’t go well for us, which was definitely our offense wasn’t there,” Staley said. ”We weren’t making the extra pass. We were kind of tunnel vision and playing a little bit too much 1-on-1 basketball and not taking what the defense gives us.
”I felt the we did a better job of that, just moving the ball around, driving to the basket off of ball-screen action and finding people where they were comfortable shooting the ball.”
South Carolina had shot a season low 32.3 percent against UConn and scored 58 and 53 points in the two losses. This time the Gamecocks were 28 of 55 (50.9 percent) despite cooling off significantly in the second half.
”Coming off the week that we had and just seeing those shots going into the basket, it was a good thing,” Wilson said. ”But at the same time, I think we have to come out with a lot more effort and just stay within our system.”
Wilson didn’t score in the first 15 minutes and played only about half of the first two quarters but largely had her way inside when she starting getting the ball regularly. She made 8 of 10 shots.
”She was 8 for 10 but the kicker is you only gave her 10 shots,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. ”That’s tough to do.”
Tyasha Harris had 17 points and five assists for the Gamecocks. Harris had 12 points by halftime when she made both 3-point attempts and all six foul shots.
Bianca Jackson scored 10 points.
Hannah Cook and Shaquera Wade both scored 13 points for Alabama. Jasmine Walker finished with 12.
South Carolina scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to push its lead to 19 points. Then Alabama got hot, making four straight shots and cutting it to 71-63 on a steal and layup by Amber Richardson with 3:10 left. The Tide couldn’t get any closer.
The Gamecocks fell behind by seven points in the first quarter before starting a 20-2 tear extending into the second. Jackson’s steal and layup with two seconds left gave South Carolina its first lead, 21-20.
By halftime, it was 45-30, though Alabama managed to whittle a few points off the margin in the third.
South Carolina: Rebounded strongly after double-digit losses Monday night at Mississippi State (67-53) and last week against UConn (83-58). Hit 16 of 24 shots in the first half.
Alabama: Lost its fourth consecutive game. Has lost the last 14 meetings after winning 11 in a row from 1992-2000. Fell 93-45 in last season’s SEC opener against the Gamecocks but fared much better in this one.
South Carolina hosts Florida on Sunday.
Alabama visits Mississippi Sunday in the first of two straight road games.
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