COLUMBIA — It was a bad quarter. They happen.
It may not have been comfortable to watch, but top-ranked South Carolina had more than enough to overcome it.
A struggling second quarter was dwarfed by three superior periods, and the entire game was governed by budding National Player of the Year Frontrunner Aliyah Boston as the No. 1 Gamecocks thumped Texas A&M 65-45 on Jan. 13. When she was in the game, USC (16-1, 4-1 SEC) had no problem.
“Aliyah’s good, she’s good. Get her the basketball, she delivers,” coach Dawn Staley said. “She’s doing Aliyah things.”
Boston notched her program-record 10th consecutive double-double at 3:21 of the second, ending the game with 19 points and 15 rebounds. She blocked three shots with two assists and a steal. She hit the Gamecocks’ only 3-pointer of the first half, because why not?
“Definitely felt pretty good out there. They did a great job of finding me and getting me the ball, and I just tried to finish,” Boston said. “So they can get their assists.”
But even superstars need a breather, and when Boston took her seat with 2:20 to go in the first, USC’s 16-4 lead began to swirl the drain. It was 16-10, then 17-11 as the first quarter ended; throughout the second, USC mostly held a two-point lead.
Nobody else could hit a shot. The Gamecocks’ defense, which had kept the Aggies’ guards out of sync, suddenly lagged and A&M (10-6, 0-4) began converting shots in the paint.
USC’s familiar enemy, a zone defense, again rose from the lane and the Gamecocks passed around it before hoisting rushed, late shots. Boston, forward Victaria Saxton and point guard Destanni Henderson were a combined 9-17 from the floor in the first half.
The rest of the Gamecocks were 1-18. Layups, bunnies, mid-range jumpers and 3s each bounced away as USC couldn’t buy a basket.
Staley didn’t say much at halftime, knowing the only way to break a shooting slump is to keep shooting. Perhaps clean up the looks a little and definitely tighten up on defense, she figured, and the rest would take care of itself.
“I just said to them, just gotta hit shots. I don’t think we were taking terrible shots,” Staley said. “They just didn’t go in. You continue to take good shots, they’re going to go in.”
Done and done.
Henderson splashed two 3s early in the third and Zia Cooke, locked into a dreadful shooting night, also got one to fall despite several hands in her face. A Cooke miss became a foul on Saxton, and she converted both free throws; Boston found her twin tower in the post, 6-7 Kamilla Cardoso, for a nifty underhand scoop into the basket from the opposite side.
The Gamecocks quickly took a double-digit lead and never looked back, the Aggies unable to solve USC’s defense. A deadly 3-point shooting team, the Aggies converted just two shots from beyond the arc and tied their season-low in points scored.
“They’re accurate at them. We just wanted to limit them, limit the amount of attempts they usually take,” Staley said. “I thought we did that all night. They made some tough shots, but they had to take those tough shots.”
The Gamecocks tip off at Arkansas at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 16.