COLUMBIA — Dawn Staley said after her fourth-ranked South Carolina basketball team flayed then-No. 13 Kentucky last week that she wasn’t drinking the Kool-Aid. Her team played supremely well, and has perhaps exceeded expectations for such a freshman-laden squad, but there was still way too far to go to think one game was going to predict the team’s future.
There have only been two games since then. But after the Gamecocks again used a blistering first-quarter run to leap ahead of a dangerous 21st-ranked Arkansas team, and held star guard Chelsea Dungee to 4-of-18 shooting, and won 91-82 …
A couple of sips from the cup? Maybe just a taste?
Nope. Not after USC let a 25-point lead dwindle to nine in the fourth quarter.
“Exactly. We got a good team but we’re not there yet,” Staley said. “We’re able to put teams away and if you’re fortunate to build a big lead, you should be able to finish them off.”
The Gamecocks (15-1, 3-0 SEC) were perhaps in no real danger of losing, but it was distressing to see them break down after seemingly putting the game to bed. Bad shots were taken and missed, Arkansas (13-3, 1-2) began stroking transition 3-pointers and USC didn’t answer.
They had enough to win. Aliyah Boston posted a double-double with 19 points and nabbed a stunning 25 rebounds, just one from tying the school record.
Yet USC gave up 82 points, two games after giving up 72. The defense that shut down Dungee early and spawned the initial lead has to stay in place for 40 minutes.
“They started hitting a lot of 3s and they’re a good 3-point shooting team,” Boston said. “We just really had to find them earlier in transition.”
Senior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan asked for the assignment to guard Dungee and held her to 14 points. The same player that ripped USC for 63 points in two games last year missed her first 11 shots, including three airballs and two that were blocked.
Zia Cooke celebrated her 19th birthday by scoring 21 points and the Gamecocks took another step toward staying on top of the SEC, although there are 13 games to play. USC, which beat Arkansas in the regular season last year but lost to the Razorbacks in the first round of the SEC tournament, is playing well but is fighting the fatigue factor.
With three freshmen in the starting lineup, weary legs are beginning to occur.
“We go into every game the same, so going out there and beating a ranked team builds our confidence,” Herbert Harrigan said. “We just have to keep going.”
2 x 4
USC was 12-21 for 31 points in the first quarter and 12-25 for 30 in the third.
The Gamecocks were 4-16 for 13 points in the third and 5-17 for 17 in the fourth.
“Bad shots,” Staley said. “I thought fatigue played a part. I think both teams were really fatigued. It was a fast-paced game and during that time, it was the pace of Arkansas.”
The Gamecocks turned the ball over 14 times and Arkansas scored 12 points off them. USC only forced six turnovers.
The Gamecocks tip off at Vanderbilt at 5 p.m. on Sunday.