COLUMBIA — For the third straight game, it took No. 12 South Carolina a while to warm up.
For the third straight game, the final score covered all concerns.
The Gamecocks raced past Mississippi 76-42 Thursday with a 21-5 third quarter, shedding a lackadaisical first half with a barrage of scorching shooting and defense. The Rebels were within nine at halftime, but USC (17-5, 9-1 SEC) forced nine turnovers in the period following the break while holding Mississippi to one field goal.
“We defended and rebounded. That’s what our halftime talk was about,” USC coach Dawn Staley said. “We had no fluidity offensively, we didn’t hit open shots. I think we were just pressing a bit too much.”
After a series of hot starts following Bianca Cuevas-Moore’s return to the starting lineup, USC went to Kentucky and Arkansas and sputtered out of the gate. That was also the case against the Rebels (8-16, 2-8), USC starting the game 0-for-5 shooting from the field and the defense failing to contain the same high-screen, pick-and-roll opponent offense that it did at Arkansas.
But they stormed out of the halftime locker room, put the Rebels to sleep and began preparing for their annual battle with Connecticut. The Gamecocks head to Hartford, Conn., a different location than their usual matches with the Huskies but still a building that will be packed with opposing fans, on Monday.
“I feel like we have a lot of weapons that (Staley) can play, so whenever your number is called, you just gotta be ready,” said senior Nelly Perry, who scored 13 points.
* There’s something to be said for getting the win even when it doesn’t start comfortably. It’s what the Gamecocks have done the last three games, and as Staley pointed out, sometimes a team can lose in the first quarter.
“Even when you see us play a half like we played, you see progression in our bench,” Staley said. “Our defense has to stay consistent with lulls on offense. What has to be our mainstay is our ability to defend and turn people over and get downhill, get some transition from our defense.”
Perry, Destanni Henderson and Victaria Saxton each came off the bench Thursday and became three of the Gamecocks’ top four scorers.
* Henderson and Saxton followed up their sterling performances at Arkansas with a great night against Ole Miss. They combined for 24 points and Henderson, the 5-8 guard, outrebounded her taller teammate 5-3.
“I’m very confident with the style of play I’ve been playing the last two games,” she said.
* Ty Harris dished nine assists while Henderson had five.
* The Gamecocks remain in undisputed second place in the SEC with six games to play.
* USC seems to regress in its offensive game plan when shots don’t fall. Those first few don’t go in and the Gamecocks get back to passing around the perimeter instead of constantly attacking.
Cuevas-Moore is in a shooting slump right now — she’s taking good shots but they’re not falling — and finished 0 for 5 from the field. That’s played a big part in USC’s beginning lulls after she was at the pinnacle of her game in the first half of SEC play.
The champs is here
The Gamecocks raised their 2018 SEC Tournament championship banner before the game. Why the delay?
They had to wait until the rings were completed. USC received those before the game, too, including A’ja Wilson.
The Gamecocks are at No. 5 Connecticut on Monday.