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WBB: Reserves lead Gamecocks to victory

SOUTH CAROLINA WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

South Carolina overcame a poor performance to beat Georgia 65-57.

On a night when South Carolina’s starters were badly outplayed, the reserves came through to pull out the win. With the game tied at 53 midway through the fourth quarter, senior Doniyah Cliney drove baseline and her go-ahead layup rolled in. On the next possession, freshman Victaria Saxton was fouled on an offensive rebound and made both free throws.

The Gamecocks clamped down on defense once they retook the lead. The Lady Bulldogs missed six of their next seven shots, and just as importantly, the Gamecocks got every defensive rebound. The Lady Bulldogs had to start fouling to prolong the game, and the Gamecocks, despite shooting just 2-9 from the floor in the fourth, made 8-10 free throws to hold on.

Dawn Staley’s frustration was evident from the start. Less than three minutes into the game, furious about giving up three offensive rebounds, Staley subbed out her entire starting lineup. The tactic worked, as freshman Destanni Henderson scored eight points during a 15-2 Gamecock run and the Gamecocks held the Bulldogs to just two rebounds over the final 8:19 of the quarter.

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Chris Gillespie

“I saw us give up a lot of offensive rebounds,” Staley said. “I saw us give up a lot of hustle plays. I’m just through giving anybody, starters or anybody else, the benefit of the doubt. We have a job to do, you have to do your job. If you don’t do your job in the beginning, we can’t wait for you to warm up. We’ve got a deep bench and some of them have been waiting in the wings to play.”

But the boost provided by the bench wore off as the normal rotation returned. South Carolina had a poor second quarter, including an absolutely dismal end to the half. Over the final 3:48, South Carolina turned the ball over five times, scored one point (when Alexis Jennings split a pair of free throws), and only attempted one shot. That shot summed up the lack of focus in the first half, as Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, was blocked and then recovered by Herbert Harrigan, who set the ball on the floor and walked away as the final four seconds ticked off the clock.

The second unit, comprised of Henderson, Doniyah Cliney, Bianca Jackson, Victaria Saxton, and LaDazhia Williams, started the second half. Henderson had five points and three assists in the quarter and South Carolina settled in a little bit and led by seven going into the fourth.

But the starters gave the lead back, and Georgia tied the game for the first time since the first quarter when it started the fourth on a 7-0 run. That led Staley to go back to the bench, setting the stage for the final push.

Henderson led the Gamecocks with 14 points, a team-high four assists, three rebounds, two steals, and even got a block. She scored in transition and the half court, and got to the line, making 6-7 free throws. And she did it all in just 22 minutes.

“It’s a learning process for me, trying to see leadership and pick from the other guards,” Henderson said. “It’s been a process trying to do what I do best and also learn from them.”

If Henderson’s contribution was a surprise, Cliney’s was a shock. The senior has been the odd-player out in this season’s guard heavy rotation, with just one start at Arkansas. She had just seven points total in SEC games this season, but scored 12 Thursday night, her second-highest scoring game of the season.

“I just had to stay ready,” Cliney said. “It doesn’t matter if I didn’t play or not, I knew whener (Staley) called my name I’d be ready.”

Staley’s emphasis on rebounding and defense was rewarded, even if it was mostly the bench that did the work. South Carolina outrebounded Georgia 40-26 and held them to 39 percent shooting. It was even better in the fourth quarter. After Georgia tied the game at 53, South Carolina held Georgia to 2-11 shooting the rest of the game, and only gave up one offensive rebound. Even that worked out, as that offensive rebounded resulted in a turnover.

Alexis Jennings was the only starter in double figures, with 11 points. The other four starters combined scored 13 points. Herbert Harrigan did at least grab a team-high seven rebounds, but had four points, four fouls, and four turnovers.

After the game, Staley spoke about the announcement earlier on Thursday that the NCAA had granted South Carolina a waiver to host games at UNC Charlotte’s Halton Arena if it is a top 16 seed. SHe expressed her gratitude to Ray Tanner and the NCAA

“I thought our athletic director Ray Tanner did a great job fighting to make that happen,” Staley said. “That doesn’t happen at all, just so everybody knows the magnitude of what took place. They don’t give waivers in this situation. He worked extremely hard over the past couple of weeks to make that happen. I know it’s a consolation, but it’s a great one. We weren’t going to be able to play here nor anywhere near here. We would have been shipped somewhere else playing on somebody else’s floor.

“We have to take care of our business and be in the top 16,” she continued. “Hopefully that’s enough for us to do what we need to do to make Coach Tanner’s work not be in vain.”

Read more about the decision HERE.

Notes:

Staley played every player except freshman Elysa Wesolek in the first half. … Te’a Cooper briefly left the game favoring her left knee, but soon returned. She also left the Connecticut game after banging her knee. Cooper finished with three points in ten minutes. … Georgia coach Joni Taylor coached the game despite being nine months pregnant. In one of the most impressive plays of the game, Taylor, belly and all, dodged a loose ball that was bouncing toward the Georgia bench. “I told her in my next life I want to be her,” Staley said. “She’s more demonstrative this year any other year and she’s pregnant.” Taylor is married to former Gamecock assistant Darius Taylor. … Saxton was solid off the bench with eight points, six rebounds, and three blocks. … Taja Cole led Georgia with 19 points. … Announced attendance was 11,044. … South Carolina’s next game is Sunday at Florida.