When it comes to South Carolina women’s basketball, the third quarter’s the charm. And that didn’t change Sunday against pesky Alabama.
Entering the game, the No. 4 Gamecocks had outscored opponents by 110 points in third quarters this season — their best 10-minute frame by far.
Sure enough, Dawn Staley’s squad came out of Sunday’s halftime break with renewed energy and focus, turning a one-point deficit into a decisive 87-63 victory, a program-record 25th in a row in SEC regular-season play.
“Honestly, she was very relaxed and calm,” sophomore guard Zia Cooke said of Staley’s halftime message. “She came in there and just switched up some defensive things, and she let us really choose what we wanted to do as far as on the defensive end. But she didn’t come in there riled up or anything like that.”
Cooke was key to the rally, tallying 12 of her team-high 21 points in the third quarter — she started the game hot, scoring four quick points, but two fouls forced her to the bench and kept her quiet for most of the first half. In the third, she was everywhere, scoring seven points in a row at one point to create clear separation between South Carolina and Alabama.
“I honestly didn’t even really what the score was, it was just a flow thing for me,” Cooke said. “Whenever I get in my flow, I tend to keep myself there. So it was working out for me, and my teammates were getting me at good angles and places to score, and it worked out.”
And after Alabama shot 50% in the first half, the Gamecocks held the Crimson Tide to just 31.3% from the field in the third quarter. The defense stiffened, and outside of redshirt senior guard Jordan Lewis, not a single Alabama player had more than two points in a 24-13 frame that proved decisive.
“I think to beat South Carolina, you’ve got to have great balance, scoring-wise, and we weren’t able to do that in the third,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said.
1. Transition breakdown
Points off turnovers told the difference between the two halves. In the first, Alabama had 11 points off 8 giveaways, while South Carolina had just 2 points off seven Alabama turnovers.
In the second half, that flipped, with South Carolina getting 12 points off six ‘Bama turnovers and Alabama getting just 6 off 5 giveaways from USC.
2. Henderson everywhere
The main bright spot for South Carolina in the first half was junior guard Destanni Henderson. By the end of the first quarter, she had 8 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, and she was key in sparking a run in that quarter to help the Gamecocks rally from an early 16-8 deficit.
Henderson finished with 14 points, second on the team, to go with 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals.
“I feel like I’m getting more comfortable as each game goes. But it starts in practice,” Henderson said. “And I have a really good team that’s helping me through that. So I give it all to them, because they make it look easy for me. But of course, that’s me speaking humbly. I feel like from my first two years until now, I’ve grown a lot. And that’s also because of coach, just trusting the process, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
2. Second-quarter struggles
South Carolina’s worst quarter this season has generally been the second, and that proved true again Sunday, as USC was outscored 20-14 by the Crimson Tide, turning what had been a 5-point first-quarter lead into a halftime deficit.
USC shot 2 of 10 from the field to close the half, while Alabama rallied to take a 41-40 lead at the break. The Crimson Tide hammered the Gamecocks’ interior defense, using pick and rolls and dribble drives to penetrate and get surprisingly easy looks despite the size of sophomore forward Aliyah Boston and Carolina’s other forwards.
“We weren’t dictating from a defensive standpoint. We were just allowing them to set the screen, come off the screen, get the looks that they wanted to get from their offense,” Staley said. “I just thought we disrupted in the third quarter. We got out in transition and got some easy buckets.”
NEXT USC BASKETBALL GAME
- Who: No. 4 South Carolina (14-1, 9-0 SEC) vs. Auburn (5-10, 0-7 SEC)
- When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4
- Where: Auburn Arena, Auburn, Alabama
- Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN