The No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks were able to respond to its lowest-scoring first half this season with a strong showing on both sides of the court, coming out of the halftime break to pull out the eventual 66-57 win against the visiting No. 10 UCLA Bruins . The loss extends UCLA’s losing record against ranked opponents on the road to 14.
The Gamecocks went on a 16-1 run early in the third to break the halftime tie and gain an early 43-29 advantage. South Carolina scored 18 of its 23 third-quarter points in the paint, led in large part by South Carolina’s frontcourt of senior Alaina Coates and junior A’ja Wilson, to close the third up 49-38.
Coates reignited her team’s offense after a quiet first half, exerting herself in the paint and cleaning up her teammates’ misses around the rim en route to her 20 points and 14 rebounds. Wilson added another 13 points and 13 rebounds.
The Bruins were forced into a tough spot after junior guard Jordin Canada was called for her fourth personal foul just two and a half minutes into the third quarter. UCLA struggled without a point guard on the court, turning stagnant on offense and going deep into the shot clock while being kept far from the rim. The Bruins went without a made field goal in eight attempts for nearly five minutes, forcing coach Cori Close to put Canada back into the lineup despite her foul trouble.
Canada scored nine of her team’s last 11 points going into the final quarter, assisting junior guard Kelli Hayes’s basket on the fast-break and pulling her team to 54-44. But her late-game heroics was cut short when she was whistled for her fifth personal foul in addition to receiving a technical foul on her way to the bench, where she watched as South Carolina sealed the 66-57 win.
“Jordin controls the game more than any other player on the team,” said Close. “When she’s out, we really have a hard time playing to our potential without. It really turned the momentum of the game and all of a sudden, we went from being tied to being down.”
Both teams began cold in the first quarter with South Carolina recording five turnovers to its two made field goals. The Gamecocks’ six points were its lowest first-quarter output in the season, in large part due to the Bruins’ defense making it difficult for their opponents’ post-ups and drives.
The Bruins left several points on the charity stripe, going only 9 of 17, which Close identified as missed opportunities. “The free throws are definitely something we needed to take care of,” Close said. “We got their bigs in foul trouble. We had an opportunity to go up by ten, but we didn’t. We didn’t make shots. Bottom line is, you have to be that much better in all those controllable areas.”
The Gamecocks succeeded in keeping the ball out of Canada’s hands all game long, making it difficult for her to find an offensive rhythm. Canada finished with 15 points on 6-20 shooting, following her 30-point performance the game before against UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday.
But South Carolina struggled to find an answer to UCLA’s junior forward Monique Billings, whose scoring and rebounding presence was clear from the tipoff. Billings recorded her sixth double-double on the season in the first half and finished with a career-high 22 rebounds to go with her 12 points. Billings’s 22 rebounds tied for the fourth most in UCLA history.
“We just have to keep pushing and keep fighting,” said Billings about the second-half woes her team faced. “We just have to stay consistent and just keep taking good shots, even if they don’t fall. It happens sometimes. We just have to keep boxing them out and trying to get the rebounds and play hard. That’s what it comes down to.”
Still, despite both teams shooting under 30 percent in the first half, South Carolina was able to play to its strength in the interior during the second half, establishing a 54-47 margin on the boards and finding 40 points inside the paint. Meanwhile, UCLA’s shooting troubles carried over in the second half with the team going just 4-27 from behind the arc.
“I thought we really kept fighting,” said Close. “On one hand, I want to acknowledge their growth. Our kids have shown that we’re ready to play. We’re sick of losing, sick of being close. But at the same time, being sick of losing or being close doesn’t change it. We just got to focus on being better.”