COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has discovered the perfect role for reserve LeLe Grissett, one the transformed guard seems to be taking to more and more with each game.
Grissett scored 17 points — her third straight game in double figures — to lead the fifth-ranked Gamecocks to a 73-60 win over No. 25 South Dakota on Sunday.
The 6-foot-2 junior came to South Carolina as a forward, but has since been moved to the backcourt where her size, strength and talent present matchup problems.
“Coming off the bench is a perfect position for her because she changes the complexion of the game defensively,” Staley said. “Now she’s changing the complexion offensively. You want to see a player grow in that way.”
Grissett’s surge has helped the Gamecocks win six straight heading into a long break before Southeastern Conference play starts next month.
Grissett said she’s become more comfortable as a guard, urged on at every practice and film session by her teammates.
“They’ve just kept pushing me every practice and in games they push me and tell me to keep my head up,” said Grissett, who had only once scored in double figures in South Carolina’s first 10 games before her recent run.
The Gamecocks (12-1) took control midway through the opening period and while South Dakota (11-2) never let things get out of hand, it could not make a significant dent in the double-digit deficit.
As it did in beating Purdue and Duke by a combined 79 points the past two outings, South Carolina used speed and defense to keep the Coyotes on their heels.
Freshman Zia Cooke added 13 points for the Gamecocks while another newcomer, Aliyah Boston, had a team-leading nine rebounds and five of her team’s six blocks. It was the third game this season in which the 6-5 Boston has blocked five or more shots.
South Carolina took control early with a 25-7 surge that spanned the first and second quarters. The run included a right-handed, three-quarter court-length heave — officially measured at 71 feet — from Tyasha Harris that swished home to close the opening quarter.
Ciara Duffy finished with a game-high 20 points for South Dakota before fouling out in the final quarter. The team’s second-leading scorer coming in, Hannah Sjerven, was held to five points in 17 minutes because of foul trouble.
The Coyotes came in No. 10 nationally in scoring at 82 points per game. They were held to their fewest points this season.
South Dakota coach Dawn Plitzuweit said her team played hard and didn’t cave in under South Carolina’s pressure. She’s confident the tough nonconference schedule will serve her team well when Summit League play begins next week.
“It was set up to be very challenging,” Plitzuweit said. “The styles that we’ve seen and the competitive teams that we played will help us.”
THE BIG PICTURE
South Dakota: The Coyotes, the preseason pick to win the Summit League, entered the AP Top 25 this week and will likely drop out despite losing to a top-5 opponent. Still, South Dakota is a good bet to make its second straight NCAA Tournament.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have been strong against Top 25 opponents and showed that once more. South Carolina improved to 3-1 this season against ranked teams, beating Maryland and Baylor last month. Its lone loss came to Indiana.
BEAT THE CLOCK
The Gamecocks had buzzer-beating baskets in each of the first three quarters. Harris’ long-distance bomb got it started. Then Cooke and Destanni Henderson made much shorter shots that went in after the buzzer sounded in the second and third quarters.
“Three shots the end of the quarter I thought were fairly well defended,” South Dakota’s Plitzuweit said. “They hit shots and that’s a credit to them.”
SWEATING IT UP
In their last game before Christmas, both the South Carolina and South Dakota benches broke out their best (or maybe worst) holiday-themed sweaters. Staley, a Philadelphia native, broke out her green Eagles sweater that lit up around the word “Touchdown.”
Plitzuweit of South Dakota chose a more traditional style with reindeer on hers.
South Dakota will have a week off before starting Summit League play at Western Illinois on Dec. 29.
South Carolina gets more than a week off before opening its Southeastern Conference season Jan. 2 at home against No. 14 Kentucky.
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/Womenscollegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25