COLUMBIA — No controversies, no fisticuffs, no postgame accusations that could be tied up in court the next three months.
No excitement, either, outside of No. 19 South Carolina thrashing No. 25 Missouri 79-65 Monday to remain in the thick of the SEC regular-season championship race.
The Gamecocks and Tigers slogged through a whistle-happy game, USC’s 21-7 starting burst enough to pace the final three quarters. The officiating crew seemed determined to stop any potential altercations before they started and did so, calling every slight bit of contact a foul, which led to a nice, clean finish.
Boring? Maybe. But Dawn Staley didn’t care about the tempo. She wanted to win after a loss at Mississippi State and heading into a week off following Monday’s game.
“I told our players, I was proud they made the adjustments. I thought we controlled the controllables,” Staley said. “Hopefully, we’ll continue to get better and hopefully, the next few games, there won’t be as many stoppages.”
She got that, and there was nothing else to talk about. Even the double technicals in the third quarter, when Missouri’s Akira Levy swiped at a dead ball, causing Lele Grissett to draw back her elbow and lightly tap Sophie Cunningham in the chest, were footnotes.
Bianca Cuevas-Moore showed exactly why she’s back in the starting lineup with 11 first-quarter points, Ty Harris shook off a bad first half to score 12 in the third quarter and the Gamecocks cruised. The game many waited nearly an entire year for and attended by several thousand bloodthirsty fans ended with a whimper.
But USC won. Which was always the main goal. The Gamecocks are in sole possession of second place in the SEC, one game behind Mississippi State.
“We prefer to put our foot on the gas, but obviously, some things change,” Harris said. “If we get a burst in the beginning and they play catch-up, that’s how it has to be.”
* Cuevas-Moore ended with 14 points and had Missouri reeling from the start. In one dizzying sequence, she showed exactly why she’s earned the “Good Bianca/Bad Bianca” nickname.
She stroked a 3-pointer, stole a ball and as it was about to go out-of-bounds, threw it between her legs to Grissett. Grissett took a few dribbles, waiting for Cuevas-Moore to get to the corner, and threw it to her again for another 3.
Her next two touches were turnovers.
* Harris started 0 for 6 from the floor. Staley wouldn’t reveal exactly what she said to her at halftime.
“I told her, ‘You’re 0 for 6 at the end of this game, beep beep beep beep,’” Staley said. “You fill in the blank.”
Harris ended with 16.
* Cunningham, who was again roundly booed every time she touched the ball, scored 24 points, which would normally not be celebrated. But 14 came in the fourth quarter after the Gamecocks took a 24-point lead.
Te’a Cooper and Cuevas-Moore locked her up in the beginning and USC didn’t let up despite the foul trouble.
* Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said that she and Staley talked beforehand and agreed to show unity for themselves and the game (Monday was USC’s night for the annual “We Back Pat” promotion, in honor of late Tennessee coach Pat Summitt). The teams gathered at mid-court for the national anthem and stood in a circle … although there were two separations in it, in each case where someone from USC stood by someone from Missouri.
* There were four officials’ reviews (two because of clock malfunctions) and 45 fouls. It’s understandable why it was called so tightly after last year’s fracas, but it robbed the game of flow and cohesion.
Monday’s attendance was 12,004. It’s unclear as to whether that included one dog.
A woman behind Missouri’s bench pulled a small dog seemingly out of thin air to watch the game on her lap. Seeing a dog at Colonial Life Arena isn’t strange, as Staley’s Havanese, Champ, routinely attends practice.
But that’s practice. Dogs aren’t allowed in for games.
How the other dog got in was understood later on. The owner? Paula Cunningham.
The Gamecocks are on their bye week. They return to the court Jan. 28 against Vanderbilt.