By Josh Hyber/Photo by Jenny Dilworth
Bianca Cuevas-Moore was, quite simply, vintage Bianca Cuevas-Moore. The Cuevas-Moore that South Carolina fans have gotten to know over her five seasons on campus and the Cuevas-Moore that sparked the Gamecocks on its run to winning the 2017 national championship.
A 3-point marksman, a floor general, and, most evident, a pest on defense.
Midway through the first quarter of South Carolina’s conference matchup against Florida on Wednesday night, the redshirt-senior picked off a Gators’ pass, sidestepped a defender and dribbled from the half-court line in for an uncontested layup.
Five minutes of regulation had not been played, yet Cuevas-Moore had eight points and the home team led 19-0.
It was a muscle flexing all night long for No. 21 South Carolina (11-4, 3-0 SEC), who chomped the Gators (4-12, 0-3 SEC) 71-40. The win gave the Gamecocks 200 all-time at Colonial Life Arena.
Cuevas Moore — starting her first game this season because she’s recovering from a left-knee injury that forced her to miss all but one game last season — led the Gamecocks with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while Alexis Jennings had 13 points and eight rebounds. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan added 11 points, while Ty Harris had 10 points and eight assists.
Cuevas-Moore’s previous season-high was 12, against Appalachian State. Until Thursday it was the only time she had cracked double-digits this season.
“Oh my gosh, my knee feelings amaaaaazing,” Cuevas-Moore said with a wide smile after the game. “As you can see. It really feels good, though. I haven’t felt like this in a long time.”
The guard found out she earned the start two days ago.
“I don’t really know why,” she admitted.
“She’s been having great practices,” Harris chimed in.
“OK yeah, maybe that’s what it is,” Cuevas-Moore said.
In the opening moments, the New York native blocked Funda Nakkasoglu (the 15th block of her career), then swished a right-corner 3 moments after Harris did the same. Harris then hit a pull-up from the middle of the lane to give the Gamecocks an 8-0 lead just two minutes in.
Florida called timeout, but Cuevas-Moore could not be slowed.
She sank another longball 27 seconds later to extend the lead to 11-0. Herbert Harrigan then followed with a jumper, a thunderous block that sent Nakkasoglu into the basket stanchion and a 3 to push it to 15-0.
So much for South Carolina’s 3 for 30 stretch from beyond the arc to begin SEC play (two games). So much for its 7 for 45 stretch over its last three games.
Nakkasoglu gave the Gators its first basket, a layup, six minutes and nine seconds into regulation, but the barrage continued.
“We just came out eager and ready to play,” Harris said. “Our 3s were falling and our jump shots. Just pushing the ball in transition.”
Herbert Harrigan spotted up from the right wing for a 3 to give the Gamecocks their fourth 3 and a 22-2 lead. A Harris 3 gave the Gamecocks a 33-14 lead with just over five minutes to go in the half, which the team took a 37-23 lead into.
Staley mentioned that Cuevas-Moore the game, with the “adrenaline of starting and just getting back to herself” took a lot out of her. Some of her shots later in the game fell short, and sign that she probably didn’t have the energy to play extended minutes.
But having her on the court for 17 minutes, tied for her third-most playing time this season, propelled the home team to the blowout.
Said Staley, “She’s a difference maker for us.”