WBB: Top 12 Moments from 2020-21
The Gamecocks produced plenty of memorable moments this season, but we narrowed it down to 12.
Henny goes one-on-three
I couldn’t pick a favorite, so this is a cheat. It’s any one of those times Destanni Henderson got the ball around midcourt, saw three defenders between her and the basket, and just turned on the jets and blew past all three for a layup.
Aliyah Boston’s wink
With only seconds remaining in the first against Florida, Aliyah Boston grabbed a defensive rebound. She looked around for a guard she could pass to and start the fast break, but nobody came open, so with time ticking down, Boston did it herself. She dribbled the length of the court and pulled up for an eight foot jumper before the clock expired. As she huffed and puffed her way back to the bench, Boston saw Dawn Staley, smiled, and winked.
Boston’s 26-16-6 against Arkansas
It seems like a lifetime ago - two years - that South Carolina had no answer for Chelsea Dungee and Arkansas. But with Boston in the lineup, the Razorbacks are finished by the time they tip off. In three regular season games against Arkansas, Boston is averaging 21 points, 17.3 rebounds, and 6.0 blocks. So you know she is going to have a big game, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch, especially especially when she’s blocking shots with such power that the shooter is left flat on the floor.
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How did Boston follow up that Arkansas performance? With perhaps an even more impressive game against Boston didn’t put up the big scoring numbers, but she did a little of everything. Boston finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 blocks for her second career triple-double. Dawn Staley sent Boston out for the start of the fourth quarter thinking she still needed one more block. She didn’t get it, but the scorekeeper had already reviewed the third quarter and awarded her an extra block. That meant that Boston got a triple-double in just three quarters of play. She became the first Gamecock with a triple-double in SEC play (and one of just two in the SEC this season), the first Gamecock with multiple triple-doubles, and is tied for the SEC career-lead in triple-doubles.
LeLe’s Senior Day
South Carolina’s lone senior, Lele Grissett was also the consummate teammate. In front of a raucous luxury suite of family and friends (it was nice to have crowd noise again), Grissett received the customary Senior Day start and turned in one of her best games. She scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked two shots as she helped lock down Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard, who made just two field goals in the game, a 21-point Gamecock victory. Grissett has the option of returning for another season, and an injury cost Grissett a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, but if this was her final send-off as a Gamecock, it was a swell one.
Destanni Henderson didn’t get enough credit for her passing this season, probably because she was more exciting as a scorer. But she saved her prettiest pass of the season for the SEC Tournament. Leading a four-on-two fast break, with Zia Cooke on the right wing spotting up for three and Brea Beal and LeLe Grissett on her left, Henderson drew Tennessee’s Marta Suarez to the right with her eyes, then whipped a one-handed no-look pass to Grissett for a layup. It was a thing of beauty.
Zia Cooke’s buzzer-beater
We didn’t see much of the flex from Zia Cooke this season, but she saved it for a big moment. Down three, South Carolina had the final possession of the first half against Georgia in the SEC tournament final. Once Cooke got the ball, you could tell Cooke was taking the shot. She sized up co-Defensive Player of the Year Que Morrison at the top of the three-point arc, and a jab step to the right created all the space she needed to shoot. Cooke held her pose after she released the ball, the ball hit nothing but the bottom of the net, and there was the flex.
Another SEC Tournament Title
Some tournament titles mean more than others, and this one meant a lot. South Carolina lost the regular season title with an uninspired performance in the season finale at Texas A&M. In Greenville South Carolina got revenge on Tennessee, and although South Carolina didn’t get a rematch against Texas A&M, it still got to reaffirm that in the SEC, championships go through South Carolina (in the last eight seasons, a combined 11 of the last 16 titles, with only one season, 2018-19, when they didn’t win the regular season or tournament title). The SEC tournament run also provided the Gamecocks with the blueprint they’d lacked for much of the season, paving the way for a run to the Final Four.
Boston calling for a clearout against Charli Collier
Boston matured in the month of March. She became more outgoing in interviews, warming up to her role as one of the faces of the team, and she began to play the way Staley had begged her all season, “more dominant.” That didn’t just mean putting up big numbers, although Boston certainly did that in the postseason, it also meant imposing her will on the game instead of waiting for everything to come to her. Twice in the first half against Texas, Boston got the ball matched up one-on-one with Charli Collier and she waived off her teammates, calling for the clearout. “She may be the first pick in the draft,” Boston was saying, “but she can’t handle me.”
We’d seen Boston have better games and dominate other players and teams before, but that was the first time we saw her say, “I’ve got this.” It’s energizing for the Gamecocks and demoralizing for opponents, and if Boston wants to continue to be mentioned in the same breath as the best player in program history, A’ja Wilson (who she passed for most rebounds in a single tournament, it’s what she needs to do every game.
Cooke’s crossover reverse layup against Texas
Cooke sometimes struggled during the season figuring out how to pick her spots, when to be the aggressor and when to take a backseat. She figured it out in the SEC Tournament, but nerves got the better of her in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament (which were, after all, her first two tournament games). Once she caught her breath, metaphorically, she was lights out. Cooke hit five threes in the Sweet 16 win over Georgia Tech, and then in the Elite 8, she did this:
It’s one of those plays you have to watch over and over just to figure out how she made it happen. It’s a crossover and a reverse layup, plus “I thought it was a foul,” Cooke said.
Holding Texas scoreless in the fourth quarter
Earlier in the season, South Carolina also held Vanderbilt scoreless in the second quarter, and holding second round opponent Oregon State 30 points below its season average is arguably more impressive, but neither is going to have its own column in the record books. Texas’ scoreless fourth quarter in the NCAA Tournament had the perfect combination of number, stage, and opponent. It was the first scoreless quarter in NCAA Tournament history, and for it to come in the Elite Eight, not a first round cakewalk, makes it unlikely to ever be truly matched. And doing it against old rival Vic Schaefer just makes it a little bit more special.
Cooke’s Final Four step-back
Maybe we’re just spoiled because we expect the incredible from her, but this season seemed a little short on breath-taking plays by Cooke. Not in the postseason. Remember that high school highlight video of Cooke that went viral? At one point Cooke made her defender fall down with a crossover, waited for her to get back up, then blew past her for a layup. I had flashbacks. Even Staley was amazed by this play.
Baker's dozen: This close
This one is on the list for the wrong reason, but it may be the most enduring moment due to the heartbreak. The Gamecocks are already using it as a rallying point for next season.