Heading into Thursday night’s matchup against No. 21 Arkansas, it was a question of whether the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks’ defense could top the Razorbacks’ offense. Powered by the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, the Gamecocks answered that question resoundingly. With the freshmen at the center of the action, the Gamecocks out-rebounded the Razorbacks 63-33 for the 91-82 win and generally showed the NCAAW that they’re not messing around.
Why the Gamecocks won
Zia Cooke, a freshman guard, opened her collegiate career with bang, but then hit a slump that ran through the Gamecocks’ Paradise Jam tournament in November. She began to turn things around in mid-December and, on Thursday night against the Razorbacks, scored 21 points, making it six double-digit scoring efforts in a row and back-to-back games of scoring 20 or more points.
Entering the game as the team’s leader in points, rebounds and blocks, it was more of the same for freshman forward Aliyah Boston, who turned in a career-high 25-rebound performance, with 10 of those boards coming off the offensive glass — helping South Carolina to 29 second-chance points. Boston also added 19 points (for her second-straight double-double), five blocks and one steal; she shot 50 percent from the field and made five of her six free-throw attempts (83 percent).
Freshman guard Brea Beal made just two of her six field-goal attempts but head coach Dawn Staley kept her in the game for 25 minutes because of her dogged defensive hustle that does not always show up in the box score. Only, last night, against the Razorbacks, it did. To go with her four points, Beal grabbed 12 rebounds — six on the offensive side of the ball and six on the defensive side.
Seniors Mikiah Herbert Harrison and Tyasha Harris scored 13 points apiece for the Gamecocks, who rise to a 15-1 (3-0 SEC) record, including an NCAAW-best five wins against Top 25 teams
Just how much of a monstrosity is the Gamecocks’ defense?
Why the Razorbacks lost
Razorbacks guard Chelsea Dungee, one of the best shooters in the SEC, was held to an 0-11 start and finished with 14 points on 4-of-18 (22 percent) shooting. Alexis Tolefree scored a game-high 22 points and recorded four steals and Amber Ramirez also scored in double figures, with 20. But the Razorbacks were no match for the Gamecocks on defense. As a team, Arkansas grabbed 33 rebounds, eight on offense and 25 on defense. With Boston grabbing 25 total boards on her own (10 on offense, 15 on defense), the Razorbacks needed a much better effort to give themselves a chance to win. As a team, the Gamecocks finished with 63 total rebounds (23 on offense, 40 on defense). That 30-rebound beatdown is what secured the win for South Carolina and ensured defeat for Arkansas, who drop to 13-3 (1-2 SEC) and still lack a signature win.
South Carolina will play their fourth SEC contest on the road against Vanderbilt on Sunday, Jan. 12 (5 p.m. ET/SEC Network). Arkansas will try to bounce back when they host Missouri on the same day (2 p.m. ET/SEC Network).