COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – Zia Cooke had 18 points, Aliyah Boston had 16 points and 11 rebounds, and No. 1 South Carolina bounced back from its first loss of the season with an 80-68 victory over Mississippi State on Sunday night.
The Bulldogs (9-4, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) were a late fill in when Mississippi pulled out due to COVID-19 issues. Mississippi State was supposed to play at Kentucky on Monday, a game that also was postponed due to the virus.
Whoever stepped on the court was likely to get a strong, focused showing from South Carolina (13-1, 1-1), who were stunned in overtime, 70-69, at Missouri this past Thursday and will certainly give up the top spot its held since the preseason.
The Gamecocks broke open a tight game midway through the second quarter, closing the half with an 18-8 burst to take control and a double-digit lead into the locker room.
South Carolina kept up the pace in the third quarter as Cooke, a double-figures scorer who has only reached that mark in two of her previous six games, had four foul shots and a 3-pointer.
When Boston stroked a 3-pointer with 4:59 left in the period, South Carolina was up 59-39 and cruising to its fourth straight win over the Bulldogs.
South Carolina looked like it had found its rhythm late in the opening quarter with 13 straight points to lead 23-12. But the Bulldogs rallied, making seven straight shots to tie things at 27-all on JerKaila Jordan’s layup with 5:36 before halftime.
Destiny Littleton answered with a tie-breaking 3-pointer and added another long-range basket as the Gamecocks led 45-35 at the break.
Boston had her eighth double-double this season and 38th of her career.
Point guard Destanni Henderson, at 5-foot-7, had a career-high 14 rebounds, along with eight assists, for the Gamecocks.
Jordan led Mississippi State with 16 points.
South Carolina was without Laeticia Amihere, typically the team’s first player off the bench, who was not at the arena due to health and safety protocols.
- Sunday was the 700th game of Dawn Staley’s career as a head coach. Her 516-184 record ranks her 13th in winning percentage (.737) among active NCAA Div. I coaches with at least 10 years on the sidelines.
- Victaria Saxton was nearly unstoppable in the first half of action, hitting 5-of-6 shots, including a pair of fast break layups off steals, to lead the team with 11 first-half points. Saxton had not scored in double figures in a game this season prior to Sunday, but finished with 13 in 22 minutes of action.
- Zia Cooke led the team with 18 points, snapping a three-game stretch where the junior shot 17.8 percent from the field and averaged just seven points per game.
- The Gamecocks as a team broke out of a bit of a shooting slump on Sunday, making 50 percent of its field goals. It’s the third time this season the team made at least half its attempts and breaks a stretch of four games in a row with under 39 percent of shots made from the field.
- An unlikely member of the team led the way in rebounds against the Bulldogs. Destanni Henderson pulled down a career-high 14 caroms, surpassing her previous career high of nine early in the third quarter. It’s the third time in the senior guard’s career where she finished with the team lead for rebounds.
- Henderson also did what she does best – distribute the ball. With eight more assists Sunday night, Henderson is averaging 7.3 assists with just six total turnovers in the three games since her return from injury.
- Just behind Henderson in the rebounding category was Aliyah Boston, who pulled down seven rebounds in the second half to finish with 11 in the game. Along with her 16 points, Boston clinched her seventh consecutive double-double.
- The Gamecocks tied a season high with 19 free throws made and their 79.2 free throw percentage is the best this season when attempting more than 12 in a game.
- Eniya Russell enjoyed an extended run off the bench, playing 17 minutes with eight points and four rebounds. Both the point and rebound totals are a personal best for her against SEC opponents.
- Russell and Kamilla Cardoso spearheaded a stalwart effort from a shorthanded South Carolina bench. The Gamecocks enjoyed a 27-6 advantage in bench points thanks to Russell (eight points), Cardoso (10), Destiny Littleton (6) and Bree Hall (3). It is the fifth time this season that South Carolina’s bench outscored the opposition’s bench by 20 or more points in a game.
- South Carolina made the conference’s leading scorer work; Rickea Jackson came into Sunday averaging 21.3 points per game and did score 14, but shot only 5-of-19 from the field and 0-4 from 3 in 39 minutes for the Bulldogs.
The team’s next game is a road matchup with LSU (14-1, 2-0 SEC) at 8 p.m. ET on Jan. 6. The Tigers are 8-1 at home so far this season, are on a 13-game win streak and picked up wins over Georgia and Texas A&M in the opening week of SEC play.