Veteran players were able to take control for the South Carolina women's basketball team as the No. 1 Gamecocks swept the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic over Thanksgiving weekend at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Gamecocks beat South Dakota 81-71 on Saturday and defeated No. 21 Gonzaga 79-72 on Sunday.
The Gamecocks were led in both games by junior guard Destanni Henderson and sophomore guard Zia Cooke as the duo scored in double digits on back-to-back nights. Henderson scored 19 points against the Coyotes and 23 against the Bulldogs. Cooke was also a force to be reckoned with, garnering 19 points on Saturday and 16 on Sunday.
“The Gonzaga game, the South Dakota game, those were challenging opponents,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “Some people won’t play teams like this because you're susceptible of losing because they’re that good, they’re well-coached, they play every possession … It was good that this core group of players found their edge.”
Despite its offensive success over the weekend, South Carolina had trouble at the free-throw line, shooting 16/29 on Saturday and 12/21 in the first three quarters on Sunday.
A third-quarter South Carolina run put the Gamecocks over the Coyotes in South Carolina’s first game of the Crossover Classic. The Gamecocks outscored South Dakota 31-11 in the third, shooting 70.6% from the floor, as opposed to the Coyotes’ 33.3%.
This came after South Carolina jumped out to a 19-16 first-quarter lead as junior guard Destanni Henderson and sophomore guard Zia Cooke combined for 13 of South Carolina’s 19 first-quarter points.
South Dakota was able to muster up some balanced scoring from its players for the rest of the first half, taking the game to a tie at halftime. Coyote freshman guard Maddie Krull led South Dakota at the half with eight points while senior guard Liv Korngable, senior guard Chloe Lamb and senior center Hannah Sjerven went into the locker room with seven each.
“Historically speaking from coaching, I like for our players to kind of work through things,” Staley said. “It’s learning and growing. Had it got to double digits, I might have thought differently, but I thought our players did not look panicked, they just looked like ‘OK, they’re going on a run, let’s see if we can stop the bleeding.’”
Although South Dakota outscored South Carolina 23-13 in the final quarter, the Gamecocks eventually pulled away with their first victory of the tournament.
Despite their struggles at the line early on in the Crossover Classic, the Gamecocks were able to clutch-up at the line in the fourth quarter.
South Carolina shot 13/20 from the penalty stripe in the fourth quarter alone, but the Gamecocks did have their struggles from the floor, shooting 4/11.
Gonzaga took a quick lead with over six minutes to go in the final quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers, something the Bulldogs lived and died by throughout the game, as they finished 9/19 from downtown.
The Gamecocks were able to come up with an 8-point run later on in the quarter that gave them a more comfortable eight-point lead with over 90 seconds left in the game and would eventually give the Gamecocks the win.
This win for South Carolina was accomplished in part by Henderson, who scored all of her points in the second half after getting into foul trouble early on in the game.
“I just had to adjust to how the game was going,” Henderson said. “I couldn’t get myself deep in foul trouble. Once I recognized that, I found it quite easier for offense to just be more aggressive without fouling, and that’s what really helped in the second half.”
South Carolina is set to take on NC State on Thursday at Colonial Life Arena. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.