No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball improved to 13-0 after defeating Texas A&M 76-34 in its conference opener on Thursday night at Colonial Life Arena.
The Gamecocks gained the lead four seconds into the game and never relinquished it, in part due to their defense and rebounding ability. This victory marked the eighth time South Carolina held an opponent to 40 points or fewer this season.
“It's just taking it game by game,” senior guard Zia Cooke said. “We played some good teams outside of the conference, but we do got to make sure we keep our foot on the gas because everyone’s going to give their best every time we play, so we got to be prepared.”
An early 13-0 run guided the Gamecocks to a 24-6 advantage after the first quarter. During those 10 minutes, South Carolina held the Aggies to 3-14 shooting and out-rebounded them 17-4, including 6-0 on the offensive glass.
The Gamecocks headed into the matchup allowing the fewest points per game (43.8) and the lowest field goal percentage (26.2%) in Division I women's basketball. They demonstrated that defensive quality throughout the game, forcing Texas A&M to shoot 23.5% from the floor and commit 22 total turnovers in the game. South Carolina shot 44.3% and totaled nine blocks and 13 steals.
The Gamecocks established a strong presence in the paint on both sides of the ball, out-rebounding the Aggies 53-26. On defense, they denied opportunities close to the basket and forced Texas A&M into taking difficult shots from a distance. South Carolina outscored the Aggies 38-8 in the paint on offense and generated 21 second-chance points from 18 offensive rebounds.
While the Aggies had a short bench due to multiple injuries, the Gamecocks’ substitutes, led by sophomore forward Sania Feagin and freshman guard Talaysia Cooper, contributed 42 of the team’s 76 points. Cooper led all scorers with a career-high 15 points and five rebounds, while Feagin added 11 points and six rebounds.
“(Cooper) is just a killer,” Cooke said. “She’s never too high with the highs or low with the lows. She’s always real steady in practice … and she was feeling it tonight, so I hope she can stay consistent in what she’s doing.”
Head coach Dawn Staley said she likes the team’s depth and versatility, which she considered to be pivotal to South Carolina’s success in the game.
“I thought our starters got off to a slow start, and then when we inserted some of the players that are substitutes. They came in and pushed the tempo,” Staley said. “I like the fact that we can play at different speeds. I like the fact that we are extremely versatile — we can play different people at different times, and we get a totally different look.”
Despite the many positives that came with South Carolina's victory, Staley pointed out some offensive improvements the team needs to make as it progresses in conference play.
"I like for us to shoot a little bit better — our field goal percentage's gotta to get up, our free throw percentage gotta to get up — but they continue to play hard, play hard for 40 minutes," Staley said.
The Gamecocks (13-0, 1-0 SEC) will look to continue their undefeated start to the season when they face off against Georgia in a road matchup on Monday at 7 p.m. The game will air on the SEC Network.