South Carolina didn't play nearly as well as it wanted to in its last game at Connecticut, but the perfect recipe to a disappointing performance is to come out in the next game and improve.
The Gamecocks did exactly that on Thursday, Feb. 16, against Vanderbilt at Colonial Life Arena. No. 6 South Carolina jumped out to a 17-point lead after the first quarter and rode that momentum to a commanding 82-51 victory over the Commodores. The win kept the Gamecocks in a first-place tie in the SEC.
"We're figuring out what works," head coach Dawn Staley said. "We've got some versatility with what we can do. Obviously, offensively we want to continue to do some of the things we did and create that balance out there on the floor. That's the balance that we're going to need going forward."
The Gamecocks (22-3, 12-1 SEC) came out strong to start the game as Kaela Davis hit a top-of-the-key jumper and A'ja Wilson recorded a layup to make it 4-0.
Vanderbilt's Minta Spears' 3-pointer was answered by a Tyasha Harris trey, which jumpstarted a big run. Alaina Coates added a layup, Davis recorded an old-fashioned three-point play and Wilson fought for an offensive rebound to lay it back in to give the Gamecocks a 14-3 lead. It forced the Commodores (12-14, 2-11 SEC) to call timeout with 5:44 left in the first quarter.
The run would continue for South Carolina, however, and three straight turnovers by Vanderbilt resulted in three straight Gamecock baskets to make it a 16-0 run and a 20-3 South Carolina lead.
The Gamecocks would hold a 23-6 lead after one quarter, and erased any bad memories from the UConn game. Vanderbilt was forced into nine turnovers in the opening quarter, and the Gamecocks scored 12 of their 23 points off those turnovers.
Vanderbilt was able to get back into the game in the second quarter. A Christa Reed three and basket by Kalei Clemons-Green cut into the lead, and an offensive rebound and putback by Spears suddenly made it a 10-point game. However, Davis was able to immediately answer for South Carolina to stop the run.
Davis would continue to provide the answers as she buried a three. Bianca Cuevas-Moore would make it back-to-back threes and give the Gamecocks a 39-19 lead. Davis then added a traditional three-point play to put South Carolina up by 21 points, and the Gamecocks carried a 46-26 lead into the halftime break.
Davis finished the first half with 13 points for South Carolina, which made 19-of-38 (50 percent) first half field goals. Vanderbilt attempted just 22 shots overall and made just six of them (27.3 percent).
"I think that's the whole thing is to just find an easier way to get some shots," Davis said of her game. "Not put so much pressure on making threes and shooting outside shots. Just getting back in rhythm."
The two teams traded baskets to start the second half, but the Gamecocks put together back-to-back baskets when Allisha Gray popped through a layup and Harris converted a Vandy turnover into another layup. That forced the Commodores to call a timeout as the Gamecocks held a commanding, 54-30 lead with 5:54 left in the third quarter.
Gray's layup made it 56-30 before a Vanderbilt three stopped the bleeding. Both teams were pretty even in the third quarter as South Carolina entered quarter No. 4 with still a 20-point lead at 62-42.
South Carolina would slowly extend its lead throughout the fourth quarter. A beautiful pass from Cuevas-Moore to Coates resulted in a layup, forcing Vandy to call another timeout with the Gamecocks leading, 73-42.
South Carolina would cruise to the victory, and freshman Mikiah Herbert Harrigan had a big fourth quarter. She scored eight of her 12 points in the final frame, and the output was just one point off her career high set back in November. It was a promising sign for the player going through the normal freshmen blues.
"KiKi has been practicing extremely well the past couple of weeks," Staley said of Herbert Harrigan. "I think what KiKi has decided is she's tired of sitting on the bench and she wants to get out there and play, and the way you do that is you have to be productive in practice. She's bringing what we saw in her very early on."
Davis and Coates had 15 points each to lead five Gamecocks in double figures. South Carolina made 32-of-67 (47.8 percent) field goals for the game while the Commodores knocked down 12-of-53 (22.6 percent). South Carolina played very efficiently, committing just five turnovers on the night.
South Carolina returns to action on Sunday, Feb. 19, with a road contest at Missouri. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. and can be seen nationally on ESPN2.
**Story by Kyle Heck/photo by Jenny Dilworth**