COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — South Carolina earned its No. 1 ranking with a style coach Dawn Staley described as “fast and fluid.”
The Gamecocks showed they could overwhelm an opponent with their size in a half-court game on Thursday, beating Missouri 78-45.
“We pass the bus test, for sure, with our length and our height,” Staley said, referring to how impressive her team looks getting off a bus. “We use it to our advantage. … We pounded the boards and gave ourselves multiple opportunities to make baskets.”
South Carolina (17-1, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) grabbed 25 offensive rebounds and held a 62-31 edge in total rebounds.
Aliyah Boston, a 6-foot-5 freshman, and Victaria Saxon, a 6-2 sophomore, each finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Zia Cooke and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan scored 14 each for the Gamecocks, who played their first game since taking over the top spot in the AP Top 25.
Freshman guard Aijha Blackwell scored 13 points to lead the Tigers (4-14, 1-4). Missouri shot just 27.3%.
After a sluggish start, the Gamecocks started to pull away in the second quarter, outscoring the Tigers 18-3 in the last six minutes of the first half for a 35-17 lead.
“They make you shoot from the outside,” Staley said. “If you’re not prepared for them sagging off you, you tend to make bad decisions and take bad shots. Fortunately for us, our bad decisions and bad shots were cleaned up by our ability to rebound the basketball.”
Defensively, the Gamecocks blocked eight shots and smothered Amber Smith, who leads Missouri in scoring, averaging 13 points. Smith didn’t score until the final minute of the third quarter and finished with four points on 1-of-8 shooting.
“We talked about what a great shot-blocking team they were, but you didn’t see us play off two feet or use a shot fake at the rim,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “Those little details make a big difference. We’re still working our way through some of that, but I’m still proud of our girls.”
South Carolina senior point guard Tyasha Harris finished with 11 points and five assists and became the second player in program history to surpass 1,000 points and 600 assists in a career. She joined Cristina Ciocan, who accomplished the feat from 2000-04.
“I’m kind of speechless,” Harris said. “I didn’t come here to get the assists record. I didn’t even know about it. But now that I’m on target to get it, I’m determined to get it.”
Harris has 603 assists, which is 12 off Ciocan’s school record.
“We haven’t really had a point guard like Ty,” Staley said. “She’s the consummate. She can pass the ball, obviously, but it’s her intellect and her ability to lead since she got here. She’s an old lady in our program. She knows exactly what we want, and she’s able to get people to elevate and play at her level.”
Missouri: After qualifying for the NCAA Tournament four years in a row, the Tigers have struggled adjusting to life without the program’s all-time leading scorer, Sophie Cunningham, who now plays in the WNBA and in Australia. They hope to build for the future around freshmen Blackwell and Hayley Frank, who average more than 12 points. But they’re taking their lumps now, especially during the recent three-game stretch against ranked opponents Mississippi State, Arkansas and South Carolina.
“The season hasn’t gone as we’ve hoped, but we’ve talked about the process, really committing one day at a time to getting better,” Pingeton said. “Come March, when the SEC Tournament rolls around, hopefully we’ll be a completely different team than we are today.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have yet to be slowed down or seriously challenged in SEC play, winning each game by at least nine points. South Carolina is averaging 91 per game in conference play.
Missouri: At Mississippi on Sunday.
South Carolina: Host No. 10 Mississippi State on Monday.
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