COLUMBIA, S.C. — All-American Aliyah Boston and top-ranked South Carolina were too much for Texas A&M as the Gamecocks rolled to a 65-45 victory in Southeastern Conference women’s basketball play before 12,169 fans Thursday at Colonial Life Arena.
The Aggies (10-6, 0-4) trailed only 26-24 at halftime, but the Gamecocks (16-1, 4-1) went on a 15-2 run early in the third quarter and were in control the rest of the way.
“I said let’s try and stay with them until halftime,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “We fought. We scratched, and we found a way to do it, but eventually [South Carolina] made some adjustments.”
South Carolina, which hit only 1 of 10 3-pointers in the first half, hit 3 of 6 in the third quarter as the Gamecocks made 7 of 15 field goals with point guard Destanni Henderson hitting a pair of 3-pointers. A&M struggled in the quarter, missing 14 of 15 field goals and losing five turnovers after having none in the second quarter.
“They are tall, and 95% of the time they are just reaching over us and getting the rebounds,” Blair said. “Henderson hit a couple of 3s that helped them. When they have Henderson and the best player in the country [Boston], it is kind of hard to stop.”
South Carolina had a whopping 53-31 rebounding edge, getting 26 on the offensive end. The Gamecocks also had a 31-12 edge in second-chance points and a 32-18 scoring edge in the paint.
The 6-foot-5 Boston had 19 points and 15 rebounds for her school-record 10th consecutive double-double. South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said Boston has steadily pursued greatness with the Gamecocks, improving her fitness, technique and knowledge.
“It happens over time, but she’s forced it to happen,” Staley said. “It’s beautiful to see it happening in such a short period of time.”
Boston had a stellar first half with 15 points and 10 rebounds while the rest of the team missed 20 of 24 field goals.
The Aggies tied the score at 26 on Kayla Wells’ opening basket of the third period. That’s when South Carolina turned things up. Henderson hit a pair of 3-pointers while Boston added another inside bucket. When Zia Cooke hit a 3-pointer, South Carolina led 41-28.
Boston had eight points in the first eight minutes as the Gamecocks took a 16-4 lead. But A&M cranked up the defense and connected on shots, outscoring South Carolina 20-10 to pull within 26-24.
Cooke finished 3 of 16 overall — all her baskets on threes — for 10 points. Henderson had 15 points and center Victaria Saxton 10.
Graduate transfer Qadashah Hoppie led the Aggies with 15 points on 5-of-19 shooting. Wells added 11 points but was only 3-of-10 shooting. A&M as a team hit only 29.3% from the floor.
“South Carolina checks all the boxes,” said A&M junior point guard Jordan Nixon, who had seven points, one assist and four turnovers. “They are athletic. They play hard. They are strong. They are fast. They made it tough. They did their job and that was their game plan. They wanted to make it tough and be physical. They played South Carolina basketball.”
It was Blair’s final time at the Colonial Life Arena, a building he’s praised for its huge crowds and atmosphere. He walked the concourse an hour before tipoff, hugging supporters and interacting with fans.
Blair’s national championship compatriot, Staley, presented him with a gift box before the start as several fans stood and cheered for the Aggies’ coach, who is retiring after this season. Blair mimicked a golf swing, so golf balls were probably involved.
Blair said he brought a school administrator on the trip to experience the big crowd.
“We’re trying to learn from everybody we can,” he said.
A&M: The Aggies beat South Carolina last February 65-57 to win the SEC regular-season title. But A&M is not the same team in Blair’s final season with Aaliyah Wilson and N’dea Jones off to the WNBA. The Aggies matched a season-low for points — they lost 73-45 at seventh-ranked Tennessee last week.
South Carolina: Different night, same performance from Boston, who’s putting together a national player of the year season. Even when her teammates struggle to score, Boston’s dominance down low keeps South Carolina going until the offense kicks in.
Blair was the fifth coach with a national title that Staley’s Gamecocks have defeated this season, following Geno Auriemma of UConn, Brenda Frese of Maryland, Tara Vanderveer of Stanford and Kim Mulkey of LSU. “Those are the kind of stats we’re trying to dig up,” Staley said.
A&M’s Blair referenced how his 2007-08 team opened 1-4 in the Big 12 Conference, then advanced to the NCAA’s Elite Eight. He vowed this team would not give up despite the early SEC hole. “If you get knocked down nine times, you’ve got to get up 10,” he said.
A&M: returns home Sunday to face Auburn (8-7, 0-4), which is tied with the Aggies for last place in the SEC.
South Carolina: at Arkansas on Sunday.