ESTERO, Fla. (AP) – A’ja Wilson had a confession after the game: Yes, No. 3 South Carolina was a bit rattled at times by Rutgers. It didn’t show.
Wilson scored a career-high 33 points, Lindsey Spann added 17 and South Carolina survived a serious test before beating Rutgers 78-68 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Gulf Coast Showcase.
”That’s something I kept telling my teammates in the huddle, just keep our composure,” Wilson said. ”Don’t let them shake us too much.”
Shaken, they were. Defeated, not yet, and not for a while. The reigning national champion Gamecocks (5-0) shot 64 percent in the fourth quarter, 54 percent for the game and extended their winning streak that started last season to 16 games.
Wilson was 9 for 15 from the field, 15 for 17 from the foul line and added a game-high 10 rebounds for South Carolina, which shook off a bit of a slow start and was down by six midway through the opening quarter.
Tyler Scaife scored 20 for Rutgers (4-1), which got 13 from Tekia Mack and 10 from Jazlynd Rollins.
”Too much A’ja, but we had major issues,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. ”We had breakdowns. That’s what I’m upset about. It was the defensive transition. And the bad part about it, we spent the only 48 hours we had to get prepared working on that. We lacked the discipline to do what we needed to do.”
Rutgers used its trademark press and it caused some problems – but what had Stringer upset after the game was how the Scarlet Knights got beat over the top at times, usually setting up easy scores.
”That doesn’t happen,” Stringer said.
Rutgers was within 63-60 midway through the fourth, but South Carolina finished on a 15-8 run. Wilson topped her previous career-best by a point; she had 32 against Maryland on Nov. 13.
Much like that Maryland game, this was a test – and Wilson didn’t mind.
”That’s how March is and that’s how April’s going to be for us,” Wilson said.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights gave up the first point of the game, significant because that ended a streak of 116 minutes, 51 seconds – spanning parts of four games – in which they had not faced any deficit. Their biggest deficit all season before Friday was five points. … Rutgers has 14 players, and not only did they all play but all saw time in the first quarter.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks were 22 for 25 from the foul line. … Wilson added five blocked shots, which was one more than every other player – both teams – in the game had combined. … Even though it wasn’t decided until late, South Carolina led for 33 of the game’s 40 minutes.
- South Carolina delivered its most efficient offense in the fourth quarter, shooting 64.3 percent (9-of-15) in the period.
- While Rutgers is known for its full-court pressure defense, the Scarlet Knights netted just 13 points on the Gamecocks’ 18 turnovers, which the Gamecocks matched with 13 points on Rutgers’ 20 turnovers.
- Senior A’ja Wilsonposted her second 30-point game of the season, resetting her career high to 33 points, while also picking up her fifth double-double in as many games this season.
- Senior guard Lindsey Spannhas scored in double figures in every game this season after her 17-point showing against Rutgers.
After Rutgers closed within one possession at 63-60 with 4:24 to play, the Gamecocks used their starting frontcourt to finally pull away over the ensuing two minutes. Wilson scored the Gamecocks’ next seven points, including five free throws, while Jennings crashed the boards to limit the Scarlet Knights’ opportunities.
The Gamecocks shot 22-of-25 from the free throw line – 88.0 percent – after entering the game hitting 67.9 percent from the stripe. It is the fourth time in five games this season that South Carolina has attempted at least 25 free throws.
South Carolina advances to the semifinals of the Gulf Coast Showcase, taking on St. John’s on Saturday at 5 p.m. with the winner advancing to Sunday’s 7:30 p.m. championship game.