COLUMBIA — This time, A’ja Wilson didn’t wait until the final buzzer.
One year after hitting a jumper at the horn to beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the South Carolina sophomore struck for a career-high 28 points Sunday, powering the second-ranked Gamecocks past No. 14 Duke 66-55 before a crowd of 16,429 at Colonial Life Arena.
It was the second career-high scoring effort for Wilson in the past three games, and her fourth consecutive outing with 18 or more points. She added 11 rebounds for her SEC-leading fifth double-double, and scored six of USC’s final eight points as USC broke open a close game late.
“I honestly just went with what Duke gave me,” Wilson said. “They were letting me get open, and I let the game come to me.”
Alaina Coates added 16, as USC (8-0) stayed unbeaten behind its post game and defense. Duke (7-2) led by as many as five early in the second half, but was worn down by a Gamecocks inside attack which owned the glass and generated 42 points in the paint.
“They outrebounded us, and outrebounded us at critical times,” said Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie. “Were weren’t strong enough or tough enough to get people off the glass.”
McCallie also took issue with the free throw disparity in a game where her team went to the line 15 fewer times than USC.
“Just because a team’s playing physical doesn’t mean they have the right to play physical by the rules,” she said.
But the Blue Devils had no answer for Wilson, who scored from inside and out on an afternoon when two-time SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell shot just 3-of-13. After Duke forged ahead in the third quarter, the 6-5 Wilson scored South Carolina’s next seven points to tie it.
“She was pretty much the only one that was being aggressive and making shots, but we did want to run a lot of our offense through her. Because we know she can see over people, and she has the opportunity to showcase all the tools in her toolbox,” said USC head coach Dawn Staley.
“She played pretty special tonight on both sides of the ball. It was really encouraging.”
USC once again struggled at the free throw line, converting 16 of 28 attempts. But the Gamecocks made their last eight from the line to score their fourth victory this season over a ranked opponent — No. 10 Ohio State, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 24 UCLA, and now Duke.
“It just shows you we can play in big games, no matter the situation,” said guard Khadijah Sessions.
“Coach put a difficult schedule together so we could be ready for the SEC, because we have a very tough conference. And we’re getting ready for the NCAAs. ... It shows we just work hard, regardless of who the opponent is.”