The South Carolina women’s basketball team (9-1) will enter final exams week coming off a 69-43 win over the College of Charleston at Colonial Life Arena on Tuesday.
Behind 26 points and 15 rebounds from senior forward A’ja Wilson, the Gamecocks earned their third straight win after their only loss of the season on Nov. 26.
Described by head coach Dawn Staley as “mental fatigue,” the Gamecocks opened the game with sloppy play, shooting just 7-for-22 from the field in the first quarter.
“For us, we’re not where we need to be,” Staley said. “It was a game in which we were just mentally challenged to come out and play the type of basketball we saw on Sunday. For our team, just being young, we've gotta still just try to get them to meet that mark again.”
The Gamecocks held an 8-3 lead at the first media timeout, despite shooting just 2-for-11 from the field. A 17-0 run over 7:51 led the Gamecocks to a 19-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. Wilson was close to a double-double at the end of the period, leading both teams with 12 points and seven rebounds.
She earned that double-double in 12 minutes of play, powering South Carolina to a 34-10 lead at the half with 18 points and 11 rebounds in both periods. Tuesday’s game marked the 100th double-figure scoring game of her career.
“My teammates really help me get the basketball in my hands and I try to make everything work,” Wilson said. “I try to just put points on the board for us, cause I know that’s what we're going to need at the end of the game ... I just really take what the defense gives me and I just work from there.”
While it held a large lead, South Carolina shot just 36.1 percent from the field and was 0-for-6 from behind the arc in the first half.
"They try to give effort. It's just mental fatigue. When that gets a hold of you, it's hard. It takes a really strong person to fight that wave," Staley said. "I just don't think that they're sophisticated enough to do it."
After Darien Huff’s 3-pointer that opened the second half, the Cougars put together a 9-0 run over 1:22 of play, cutting the Gamecocks’ lead to 36-22 with 7:12 left in the third quarter. Huff recorded a career-high five steals against the Gamecocks.
“I loved everything that we did against this team, especially on the defensive end,” College of Charleston head coach Candice M. Jackson said. “As a team, we had 11 steals. Defensively, I think that we were solid. We played in zone. We really wanted to get them to really take more outside shots.”
But the Gamecocks rallied back, with Wilson scoring six straight points herself in the period. Along with Wilson, Alexis Jennings and LeLe Grissett finished the game in double figures with 12 points and 10 points, respectively.
With South Carolina’s win Tuesday, the Cougars have not defeated the Gamecocks since 1991.
Up next, the Gamecocks will have 11 off days due to final exams. Their next game is against Savannah State on Dec. 17 and they will open SEC play on Dec. 31 against Texas A&M.
“When we come back, it’s going to be SEC time so we’re going to be ready to rock and roll," Wilson said. "Our biggest thing right now is just passing our exams and making sure we get through that. Then once we get through that, then we'll just start to build on us and just focus on us.”
For Staley, the break comes at the perfect time to get her team mentally prepared and playing at the right level.
"To get on the court for an hour or so with high intensity hopefully will force them to challenge themselves mentally,” Staley said.