CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Dawn Staley expected her No. 2 Gamecocks to come out sharp and determined against their fierce in-state rival Clemson. But her team’s sluggish 67-41 win Wednesday night over the lowly Tigers left her a bit disgusted.
”Every time we step on the floor we need to look like national champions and not take two steps back,” said Staley, who wants to see this team do better than last year’s loss in the Final Four.
The Gamecocks (3-0) struggled at times against the Tigers’ zone. South Carolina missed nine straight 3-pointers as Clemson (1-2) packed it in, and led just 25-19 late in the second quarter.
But South Carolina started on a 33-9 run that carried through the end of the third quarter, which included hitting a 3-pointer to end the first half and the team’s next three from behind the arc in the third quarter.
The zone meant South Carolina relied more than usual on its outside shooting. The Gamecocks were 7-of-25 on 3-pointers. Clemson tried just seven shots outside the arc, making three.
Staley said she had no choice but to keep telling her team to shoot from outside.
”Our post players didn’t come to play today. When they shoot 20 percent from the floor in the first half, it’s hard to keep going in there,” she said.
Guard Tiffany Mitchell led South Carolina with 18 points. Starting post players Alaina Coates scored 10 points and had six rebounds, while A’ja Wilson had seven points and five rebounds. They combined to make just seven of their 17 shots. Wilson had recorded a double-double in each of her first two games.
The Gamecocks defense pulled them through, forcing 12 turnovers in the first half as the shots didn’t fall. They held the Tigers to just 32.6 percent shooting (14-of-43), and Clemson missed 17 of its 23 shots in the second half. The Tigers have yet to score more than 50 points this season.
Justice Wright scored a career-high 13 to lead Clemson, and coach Audra Smith was delighted to see her tallest player hold her own against South Carolina’s giants.
”I don’t know what she ate or what she did, but we need her to do that every game,” Wright said.
Clemson is playing its home games at cozy Jervey Gym while Littlejohn Coliseum is being renovated. Even with packed stands, the attendance Wednesday was 1,200.
Smith said she knew playing zone was her team’s only chance to win.
”We knew coming in we weren’t even going to try to play them man,” Smith said.
Mitchell said the zone wasn’t bothering the Gamecocks too much because they were getting open looks, just failing to knock them down.
”Sometimes it is just how the ball falls,” the senior guard said.
Smith and Staley played together at Virginia in the late 1980s and early 1990s and have remained good friends. The two hugged before the game as Smith asked Staley about her mother and introduced Staley to a couple of her players.
South Carolina: After switching her starting lineup for South Carolina’s second game, coach Dawn Staley kept the same starters Wednesday. … Before Wednesday night, South Carolina had increased its margin of victory in each game of its six-game winning streak over Clemson. The Gamecocks beat Clemson in 2014 by 58 points.
Clemson: The Tigers had 24 fouls to 15 for South Carolina, and the Gamecocks shot 14 more free throws … Fourteen of the 15 players on the Tigers roster are freshmen or sophomores. … Even with Wednesday’s loss, Clemson leads the series over South Carolina 33-28 and still owns the longest winning streak in the series at seven games.
South Carolina heads west, playing at UCLA on Sunday, followed by three games in three nights in Hawaii.
Clemson goes to Furman on Saturday.