The No. 5 South Carolina women’s basketball team's comeback bid against No. 3 Texas A&M fell short Sunday night as they lost 65-57 in College Station.
The Aggies secured the SEC regular-season championship with the victory, as well as the No. 1 seed in the upcoming SEC Tournament. The Gamecocks locked up the No. 2 seed, giving both teams double-byes to begin the tournament.
“We’re a program that, moral victories, moral comebacks — that is not a part of our program," Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley said after the regular-season-ending loss. "We’re expected to win championships, and this was in our reach and we just ran out of gas and didn’t have enough in the tank today.”
A back-and-forth first half ended with Texas A&M taking a 35-34 lead into the break, but the third quarter was dominated by the Aggies as they outscored the Gamecocks 19-8 and built a 15-point lead late in the period, their largest of the game.
The Aggies stormed out of the gates after halftime with hot shooting and stifling defense that did not allow South Carolina to score until sophomore guard Zia Cooke hit a free throw with just over three minutes left in the third quarter, by which point the Gamecocks trailed by double digits.
Texas A&M held a 12-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, but the deficit was cut to just 3 by the Gamecocks after a run early in the final period. South Carolina, however, could not finish the game on a high note as their last legitimate chance, Cooke's corner three with 19 seconds left that would have made it a 2-point game, rimmed out.
The Aggies' senior guard Aaliyah Wilson scored 17 points to lead the way for A&M to go along with eight rebounds and three steals, while senior forward N’dea Jones added 16 points and 14 rebounds. Four of the Aggies' starters scored double digits and the team had higher field goal and three-point shooting percentages than South Carolina, a product of the home side’s stingy defense in transition and half-court.
Cooke and junior guard Destanni Henderson each scored 15 points for South Carolina, but the pair were a combined 10-32 from the field and just 3-13 from three-point range. Sophomore forward Aliyah Boston finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds for her 12th double-double of the season. South Carolina as a team shot 32.4% from the field, 10 percentage points worse than their opponent, and only 22.7% from beyond the arc.
“I think what Texas A&M did overall and what a lot of teams are doing now is just getting back in transition and trying to take some of those points away,” Staley said post-game. “And it’s forcing our half-court offense to be a lot more efficient than we have been.”
After finishing the regular season 19-4 (13-2 SEC), Staley’s Gamecocks will now turn their focus toward the SEC Tournament in Greenville where their first game will be a quarterfinal matchup against the winner of No. 7 Alabama and No. 10 Missouri match. Television coverage begins at 6 p.m. Friday on the SEC Network.