Wilson's 18 leads No. 2 S Carolina to 99-41 win
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) After heralded freshman A'ja Wilson struggled in her debut for No. 2 South Carolina, coach Dawn Staley decided the country's top prospect might be better served watching the start of Thursday's game with Clemson from the bench.
The change in perspective was just what Wilson needed as she scored a game-high 18 points to lead South Carolina (2-0) to a 99-41 win over Clemson.
Wilson made just two of her seven shots in the opener, never finding the rhythm Gamecocks fans expected from her first moments on the floor after she decided to stay in state instead of going to Connecticut, North Carolina or Tennessee.
She entered the game after four minutes Thursday, sinking her first short jumper from the paint. She would make her first six shots and learn an important lesson about college basketball in the process.
''I learned from Saturday to let the game come to me,'' Wilson said.
The 58-point win was South Carolina's biggest ever over Clemson (2-1), and the Gamecocks have won five in a row over their fierce in-state rival.
South Carolina fell behind 4-0 but quickly turned on the defensive pressure, forcing turnovers on five of Clemson's next six possessions. The Gamecocks scored 13 straight points during that three-minute stretch and the game was never close again.
Clemson shot just 32 percent (17 of 53) and turned the ball over 18 times.
South Carolina had six players in double figures. Aleighsa Welch had 17 points, Tiffany Mitchell added 15 points, and Alaina Coates had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
With No. 1 Connecticut losing earlier this week, the Gamecocks have a shot at moving into the top spot for the first time in program history. They staked their claim to No. 1 by shooting 53.3 percent (8 of 15) on 3-pointers and pulling down 22 more rebounds than the significantly smaller Tigers.
Clemson coach Audra Smith, who was a teammate of Staley at Virginia, said South Carolina is impossible to stop if it has that combination of hot outside shooting and size.
''If they shoot the 3-ball as well as they did tonight, you'll see them cut down the nets,'' Smith said.
Cha'Nelle Perry led Clemson with nine points. Makayla Johnson had seven rebounds.
NO. 1 GAMECOCKS?
Staley won't lobby to be No. 1 next week if her team keeps winning. But if the AP voters elevate the Gamecocks to the top spot, she plans to enjoy the next step of a journey for a team that had five straight losing seasons in the Southeastern Conference before she arrived and went 10-18 seven years ago in Staley's first season
''We've come a long way. For us to even be in the conversation of being the No. 1 team in the country is mind-boggling to me, when you look seven years ago,'' Staley said.
Welch said the team is quite aware of Connecticut's loss earlier this week and the potential of making history.
''We wanted to come out and have a statement game,'' Welch said.
Smith and Staley may be lifelong friends from their time at Virginia, but Staley showed her old teammate little mercy Thursday.
The Gamecocks didn't slow down until there were less than 10 seconds left and Staley told them not to shoot again. The crowd, which groaned three different times when South Carolina missed shots to make it to 100 points or over, groaned again as South Carolina dribbled out the clock.
The Gamecocks have never scored 100 under Staley. It was the third time they have scored 99, also making the mark last season against Charleston Southern and Mississippi.
Staley said she expects Clemson to get better fast under Smith. The Tigers have nine freshmen on their 14-player roster.
''It's not a good place to be when you have to rely on young talent,'' Staley said. ''But that talent will grow up.''
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have won five in a row over Clemson by an average of 27 points ... South Carolina has won 20 home games in a row ... Dawn Staley is just five wins away from career victory 300.
Clemson: Nine of the 14 players on the Tigers roster are freshmen ... Even with Thursday's loss, Clemson leads the series over South Carolina 33-27 and still owns the longest winning streak in the series at seven games - from 1996-2001.
South Carolina plays San Diego State on Sunday.
Clemson plays Furman on Sunday.