The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: Zia Cooke's 22 points lead South Carolina to victory over Florida

The Gamecocks beat the Florida Gators for the 15th consecutive time on Feb. 16, 2023. The Gamecocks came into the game strong, with senior guard Zia Cooke scoring 22 points and senior guard Brea Beal scoring 14 points. South Carolina improved its shooting game since last week's match against LSU, scoring 47.1% of its 3-point attempts and 50% of its field goal attempts. The Gamecocks beat the Gators 87-56.

The No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball team beat the Florida Gators 87-56 Thursday night to win its 31st game in a row and its 15th consecutive win against the Gators.

The Gamecocks started strong, leading 15-8 about five minutes into the game. Senior guard Zia Cooke scored 7 points to help build the lead.

South Carolina then went on a 9-2 run in the next two and a half minutes, going four-for-four in field goal attempts to lead 24-10.

At the end of the first quarter, the Gamecocks led 29-15. Senior guard Brea Beal and Cooke both led with 7 points apiece, while senior forward Aliyah Boston and junior center Kamilla Cardoso had four rebounds each. 

South Carolina began to run away with the game during the second quarter, holding the Gators scoreless for over six minutes and scoring 17 points to lead 48-17.

Beal and Cooke each had a pair of 3-pointers during this scoring run.

“(Beal's) got the green light, she’s not one that will take advantage of that. She’s a really good passer," head women's basketball coach Dawn Staley said. "She’s starting to just blossom a lot more on the offensive end.”

Going into halftime, the Gamecocks led 51-21. The team shot 58% during the first half, and Beal and Cooke shared the team high of 13 points each. 

“I felt great coming out. I think it was really mainly my teammates pushing me, encouraging me, really, so I think they put me in the right mindset to continue being dominant on offense and both defense," Beal said.

In the back half of the quarter, the Gamecocks went on a 9-0 scoring run in just one minute and 34 seconds. Cooke made two more threes during the third quarter, bringing her tally to five total with 22 points.

“The way that Zia was playing this year is kind of what I wanted to see out of her in probably year two,” Staley said. “Everybody’s process is their process. It didn’t really click in until this year, but I think it clicked in time for her to really understand what she’s capable of doing.”

South Carolina did not play any of its starters during the fourth quarter and ended up scoring 15 points. Six of those points came in the first five minutes of the quarter, and the team went on a scoring drought that lasted about three-and-a-half minutes. 

In the fourth quarter, three starters — junior forward Jordyn Merritt, junior center Ra Shaya Kyle and senior forward Faith Dut fouled out for the Gators.

Gamecock freshman forward Ashlyn Watkins had three fouls of her own in the fourth quarter, bringing her to four in total. She also recorded a double-double, earning 12 points and 10 rebounds. 

“We as upperclassmen can guide them a lot," Beal said. “It’s kind of cool to see them figure things out on their own … they've got to go through that just like we had to go through that."

All 14 of the Gamecocks saw the court, and 11 of them scored. The team had 36 points from the bench, shot 50% and recorded 55 rebounds. 

“I just wanted to see them play. I wanted to give them an opportunity to get some playing experience and to see who rises to the challenge. It’s hard to play when you’re up by 30," Staley said. "I like to see who can play in those circumstances." 

With this victory, South Carolina rises to 26-0 overall and 13-0 in conference play. For its next game, the Gamecocks play at Ole Miss on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. The game can be viewed on SEC Network.