Big second-half performances from senior center Alaina Coates and junior forward A’ja Wilson pushed No. 6/6 South Carolina to a 66-57 victory in Sunday’s top-10 battle against No. 9/9 UCLA at Colonial Life Arena. The pair combined for 26 points after the half, and each boasted a double-double for the second-straight game. With the win, Carolina improved to 9-1 and earned its third victory over a top-10 this season. The Bruins fell to 8-2 following the loss.
The Gamecocks shook off a poor shooting start and grabbed a 43-29 lead midway through the third quarter after going on a 24-5 run that began at the end of the first half. Scoring 11 of her game-high 20 points in the third quarter, Coates paced the surge. The Irmo, S.C., native finished with a game-best 14 rebounds and shot 10-of-14 from the line. Wilson posted a line of 13 points and 13 boards, grabbing 11 rebounds after halftime. Junior guards Allisha Gray and Bianca Cuevas-Moore joined Coates and Wilson in double figures, tallying 11 and 10 points respectively, and freshman forward Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan totaled a team-high three blocks.
Both teams struggled from the field in the early going, combining to shoot 3-of-22 in the opening five minutes. The Bruins grabbed a 9-2 lead with 2:54 left in the first quarter following their 7-0 run before the Gamecocks responded with four-straight points to get within three of the lead. Sophomore guard Doniyah Cliney knocked down a free throw to end Carolina’s scoring drought, and a put-back basket from Wilson 11 seconds later made it 9-5. A free throw by Wilson on the Gamecocks’ next trip down the floor cut the deficit to 9-6, and Carolina headed to the second quarter trailing 11-6.
With Wilson and Coates on the bench in foul trouble, Cuevas-Moore and Gray provided a spark to the Gamecock offense to move Carolina within one of the lead twice throughout the opening stages of the second period. Cuevas-Moore drilled a 3-pointer from the right corner, and less than a minute later Gray converted her first field goal of the afternoon in style, connecting on an acrobatic layup while being fouled. The junior guard made the ensuing free throw to complete the three-point play and make it 15-14 with 6:36 to play in the second quarter. Another basket from Cuevas-Moore cut the UCLA advantage to 17-16, and the Gamecocks evened the contest at 19 midway through the period when Gray again connected on a layup from the left block.
A 5-0 run by the Bruins made it 24-19 before Carolina battled back, scoring seven of the quarter’s final nine points. Three Gamecocks tallied points during the stretch, including Cliney, who capped off the run with a layup in transition after a heads up pass from Gray following a missed 3-pointer by the Bruins. The basket would be the final points of the first half and tied the score at 26 with 17 seconds left in the second period thanks to Herbert Harrigan’s emphatic block of a UCLA last-second field goal attempt down low.
Carolina’s momentum carried into the third period, as the Gamecocks opened the second half on a 17-3 run to establish a 43-29 lead less than four minutes into the quarter. Coates triggered the dominant third-quarter stretch, knocking in a free throw before converting a jumper in the paint to make it 29-28 Carolina with just over a minute gone in the period. Two more free throws from the senior pushed the Gamecock cushion to three at 31-28, and the lead stretched to 35-28 when Cuevas-Moore converted a layup for her third field goal of the contest. Big plays from Carolina’s frontcourt on both sides of the ball helped the lead grow to double digits and gave the Gamecocks control of the contest through 30 minutes. Herbert Harrigan registered crucial blocks on back-to-back UCLA possessions, and baskets inside from Coates and Wilson made it 39-29 with 5:31 left in the third quarter. The points for Carolina continued to come down low, and a put-back basket from Coates made it 47-33 late in the period. Coates chipped in 11 points and four rebounds in the quarter, and the Gamecocks headed to the final break with a 49-38 lead.
After a UCLA jumper cut the lead to single-digits at 49-40 less than a minute into the fourth, Gray again came up with a momentum-changing three-point play from in the paint. The basket and free throw gave the Gamecocks their largest lead of the afternoon at 52-40, and they stretched their advantage to 58-44 following two free throws from Coates with 5:12 left to play. Free throw shooting helped seal the win for Carolina, as Wilson, Coates and Cuevas-Moore all registered points from the line after the Gamecocks were put in the bonus with four minutes to play.
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Carolina held UCLA to 4-of-27 shooting from the 3-point line and sported a 54-47 rebound advantage. The Gamecocks, who scored 40 points in the paint, shot 33.3 percent from the floor and limited the Bruins to 28.2 percent shooting.
The Gamecocks wrap on their pre-holiday slate with a road contest against Savannah State on Wed., Dec. 21. Tipoff from Tiger Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m., and the game can be seen through an online stream with a paid subscription.
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