It was a gentle reminder. South Carolina didn’t get where it is playing like it did in the first half.
The No. 6 Gamecocks listened, and blew No. 9 UCLA off the floor.
USC (9-1) used a 15-3 run out of the locker room to leap ahead of the Bruins on Sunday, posting a 66-57 win over their third top-10 team in 10 games and answering a few questions about themselves.
The Gamecocks were disorganized, disinterested in team play and discouraged as UCLA built a seven-point first-half lead.
But they shook off a bad start to finish well, and played defense when pressed. And they kept Colonial Life Arena, its roof rocking from 13,367 fans, as impregnable a stronghold as there is in the country.
“I thought we were picking up steam as the game went on. I looked at UCLA and saw the fouls mounting,” USC coach Dawn Staley said. “With our bigs sitting the whole second quarter, I thought we would have a burst in the second half.”
“Basically, just keep going at it. Don’t slack and don’t get lazy,” Allisha Gray labeled Staley’s halftime message. “Just keep pushing tempo.”
Alaina Coates posted another double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds, and Gray added 11 points and key plays when the Gamecocks needed them most. A’ja Wilson had 13 points and 13 rebounds to offset a rough game from Kaela Davis, while Bianca Cuevas-Moore hit just enough big shots to overcome an adrenalized start.
USC was taken aback by the run-at-all-costs approach from UCLA, and decided to match it. The problem was Cuevas-Moore and Davis, the Gamecocks’ takeover scoring guard, were finding the bucket but not filling it.
“They probably were surprised they could get all the way to the rim,” Staley said. “They just had trouble finishing.”
With Coates and Wilson limited, and then on the bench in the second quarter, the guards continued to miss until Gray, Doniyah Cliney and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan steadied the ship. Gray found Cliney for a fast-break tying shot, Herbert Harrigan swatted the lead-taking attempt from Bruins star Jordin Canada and USC headed to the locker room.
Staley didn’t scream, didn’t leave spike marks in the walls. She told her team to take what it was given. UCLA wants to play fast? Fine.
But we can be faster, she said.
USC went to its bread-and-butter, targeting Coates and Wilson early in the third, and they began to score. USC eked ahead with a 9-2 run, then made it 15-3 after Canada picked up her third and fourth fouls.
Deprived of their most indispensable player, the Bruins (8-2) floundered. USC walked off with another eyebrow-raising win, but knowing it can be much better.
“We were ready to go, but we weren’t expecting them to come out like track stars,” Coates said. “For some of us, it definitely took a minute to get hit and busted in the lip a couple of times before we could get settled in.”
NOTE: Tiffany Davis sat out because of concussion protocol.
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