Zia Cooke raced up the Colonial Life Arena hardwood with just over three minutes to go in the second quarter of South Carolina’s matchup with USC Upstate on Thursday and displayed why her electric game has gone viral and been praised, at times, by Dwyane Wade, John Wall and CJ McCollum.
South Carolina’s dynamic freshman jumped in the air, spun around a defender in the lane and slid a pass to Brea Beal, who banked in a layup. Ty Harris, who flanked Cooke on the fast break, turned around and flashed a wide grin.
“I was like, ‘Whoa.’ I didn’t even know [Zia] saw the [passing lane open],” Harris said. “I told her, ‘I didn’t even know you had that in your bag.’”
Guard Destanni Henderson followed moments later with a 3 pointer and then assisted on an easy Victaria Saxton lay-in.
USC Upstate called timeout.
To no avail.
Harris swished two 3s, including a buzzer beater, and SC led by 46 points at the half.
No. 5 South Carolina (5-0) was in control from wire to wire at Colonial Life Arena and routed Upstate (3-3) 112-32 in the Gamecocks’ largest margin of victory (80) during Dawn Staley’s tenure as head coach. It’s also the most points and most field goals (43) during the stretch.
“I thought we put together 40 minutes, especially from a defensive standpoint,” Staley said. “I thought [we] locked into what we needed. Offensively, we shared the ball. We had flow. We had rhythm and I like that we got at least some of our 3 pointers to fall.”
Harris, who eclipsed 1,000 career points Thursday night, and freshman center Aliyah Boston led the Gamecocks with 18 points each, while Henderson had 15 and Saxton had 14. Boston grabbed 10 rebounds, while Saxton had eight.
The Gamecocks outscored the Spartans 62-6 in the paint and 33-4 on the fast break.
It was a fun night for the home team, and it showed.
Cooke let out a playful shrug midway through the third quarter when her 3-ball attempt stuck between the rim and backboard. She swished a longball seconds later and continued to shrug with a straight-faced mug as she retreated on defense.
Henderson and Saxton fell over each other on the bench laughing, while Boston and Cooke continued the fun with blocks about a minute later.
South Carolina was on cruise control from the outset thanks in large part to its dominating post play. The home team led 15-2 (12-0 in the paint) before Upstate called timeout just four minutes and two seconds into the first quarter.
Herbert Harrigan already had two blocks, while Boston had one.
There were smiles all around.
Herbert Harrigan and Harris joked while Upstate’s Brianna Lewis was on the free-throw line, and Boston flashed a smile after her block.
Laeticia Amihere swished a top-of-the-key 3 to give the Gamecocks a 22-2 lead with just under three minutes to go in the first quarter before the home team extended it to 33-9 with jumpers from Saxton and Boston, a Boston free throw and a back-to-back Henderson 3s.
The fun continued.
Henderson swiped a steal near the press table and flipped an underhand pass to LeLe Grissett, who banked in a layup. Amihere then flipped a no-look pass to Herbert Harrigan, who jumped full extension to save the ball from going over her head and out of bounds before returning a pass to Amihere for a layup.
“Every game I’m just trying to build and every practice I’m trying to build,” said the redshirt freshman Amihere. “I just have to not worry about the mistakes I make because they’re going to come. I’m just getting used to the college speed.”
Boston then checked in and, in one four-minute stretch, extended the home team’s lead by 10, from 29 to 39. She scored seven points during a one-minute-and-53-second sequence, including a three-point play and a jumper within 41 seconds.
Olivia Thompson and Elysa Wesolek, who ranked 10th and 11th on the Gamecocks in minutes per game entering Thursday, both started the fourth quarter. Wesolek turned a ball over but grabbed a rebound that led to a Thompson 3 to give the home team a 102-28 lead.