COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson knew the only way to overcome losing at No. 2 UConn — and she showed that Thursday night in the top-ranked Gamecocks’ bounce-back win over Missouri.
Henderson scored seven of her 11 points in a decisive third-quarter run as her team pulled away from the Tigers 77-62 for its 30th straight win against Southeastern Conference competition.
Only a few days earlier, the junior point guard was distraught over her poor performance in a 63-59 overtime loss to the Huskies. Henderson shot just 5 of 17 and had a season worst eight turnovers.
“For me, I knew I made a lot mistakes and if I had not made those mistakes, we could’ve had a better turn out,” she said. “You just have to let it go.”
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said Henderson typically is harder on herself when things don’t go her way. She had an assistant check on Henderson Tuesday night. But come Wednesday at practice, Henderson told her coach she was good and ready to go.
That showed against Missouri in the third quarter. Henderson his basket then was fouled on a driving layup. South Carolina (16-2, 11-0 SEC) recovered Henderson’s missed free throw and the ball found its way back in her hands as the Gamecocks went from up one to ahead 54-46.
Henderson knew it was time to take charge. “For sure, we needed to come out with a stronger start in the second half and make baskets.”
Zia Cooke shook off a poor start to finish with 15 points for the Gamecocks while Aliyah Boston had 11 points and 12 rebounds for her ninth double-double this season and 22nd of her college career.
Missouri (7-8, 3-7) made it difficult on the Gamecocks the first 25 minutes until Henderson heated up. But the Tigers could not answer and lost for the fifth time in its past seven games and fourth in a row to South Carolina.
“I really thought they turned up their defensive intensity,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said.
The Tigers have had a habit of hanging close with the SEC’s top teams this season. They lost a pair of games to ranked Arkansas by a combined eight points. They’ve also had a four-point loss to No. 6 Texas A&M and a six-point defeat to No. 20 Kentucky.
Shug Dickson had 15 points to lead Missouri. LaDazhia Williams and Aijha Blackwell, who combine to average almost 29 points a game, were held to just 17 between them.
THE BIG PICTURE
Missouri: The Tigers came close once more against a ranked opponent, but didn’t have the speed or strength to keep up with South Carolina. Things don’t get easier as Missouri plays four ranked opponents in its final five regular season games.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have a tendency to start slow and go through stretches where even the simplest, closest shots seem to miss the mark. While they’re sure to drop from No. 1, they have a smart, savvy lineup that will have them contending for a national title.
SOUTH CAROLINA OFFENSE
It took a bit for South Carolina to start connecting on offense. The game was tied 36-all at the half, before the Gamecocks pulled away the final two quarters. “We’re a work in progress,” Staley said. “We’re more than halfway through the season and we’re still learning, and that’s a good thing.”
WAS THAT A THREE?
LeLe Grissett, South Carolina’s only senior, surprised about everyone in the building when she hit the first three of her career. The 6-foot-2 forward had only taken three before. This time, though, she confidently stepped into the shot and went through. “I’m normally, a pass first player, but why not?” she said, smiling.
Missouri returns home to face No. 24 Georgia on Sunday.
South Carolina hosts LSU on Sunday.
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