By PETE IACOBELLI
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Dawn Staley saw a South Carolina offense she didn’t recognize in the opening half against Clemson. Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke made sure the final 20 minutes were little more to their coach’s liking.
Henderson scored 16 points off three 3-pointers and Cooke added 13 points as the top-ranked Gamecocks pulled away in the second half for their 11th straight win over rival Clemson, 75-46, on Wednesday night.
“We were faster than we needed to play. We played too fast that we couldn’t read the floor,” Staley said. “It was some real ugly play.”
Staley, in her 14th season with the Gamecocks (3-0), made sure her players got that message at halftime.
Did Staley yell at the break? “Nooo,” All-America Aliyah Boston said in a sing-songy voice. However, her players got the point and started the third quarter on an 18-6 run to lead 45-23 that Clemson could not dent.
Cooke had a jumper and two 3-pointers in the surge.
“I think we just have to remain confident, (play) within ourselves,” Cooke said. “Moving the ball, having fun with each other.”
South Carolina hit just seven field goals the first 20 minutes to lead 27-17. Cooke played only six minutes in the opening half as she picked up two quick fouls. But she lit things up after the break.
South Carolina finished with four players in double figures. Boston scored 11 points, her first game in double digits this season.
South Carolina has dominated the Tigers (1-2), winning almost all by lopsided scores with the closest coming the last time they played here, 69-57, in Nov. 2018.
Along with the Gamecocks’ early shooting issues, they had 13 first-half turnovers — they committed just 22 miscues combined its first two victories.
But the Gamecocks locked down considerably on defense in the rivalry game, holding the Tigers to 0-for-16 shooting in the second quarter. Clemson hit just three foul shots over the 10 minutes.
Gabby Elliott had 11 points to lead the Tigers, who fell to 2-16 all-time against No. 1 ranked opponents.
Clemson coach Amanda Butler said her players will take this and grow from it. There were moments the Tigers showed steadiness and poise and others, she said, “where we weren’t the best version of ourselves.”
THE BIG PICTURE
Clemson: The Tigers have aspirations of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019, Amanda Butler’s first year as coach. But they’ll have to show a sharper attack and much more accuracy than they had against South Carolina after shooting just 29 percent.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks looked like the country’s No. 1 team in taking down, fifth-ranked North Carolina State and South Dakota in their opening week. South Carolina needs more of a flow from its bench players, who struggled to hit shots with their leaders in foul trouble. It didn’t cost the Gamecocks here, but could against more highly ranked opponents.
RINGS AND BANNERS
South Carolina celebrated last season’s successes with SEC championship rings and unfurling a banner to remember their third Final Four appearance in Staley’s tenure. Staley was happy with what her team accomplished, but thought “I want a bigger banner” that comes with a national title.
RICH GET RICHER
South Carolina added a five-star recruit from close to home in Ashlyn Watkins of Columbia. The 6-foot-3 Watkins is ranked the country’s 12th best incoming prospect, according to ESPN. The Gamecocks have had the top-rated recruiting classes in 2020 and for this season.
Clemson starts a five-game homestand against Penn State on Sunday.
South Carolina starts play at the Women’s Battle 4 Atlantis against Buffalo on Saturday night.
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