Dawn Staley’s outlook for her beloved Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL playoffs dovetails nicely with the recent trend of South Carolina women’s basketball games.
The Gamecocks managed that Sunday against Alabama in a 62-59 contest that went down to the wire, and although Staley’s blood pressure may be a little worse for wear, her team has now won six games in a row.
At one point in the third quarter, USC (10-4, 2-0 SEC) led the Crimson Tide (9-6, 1-1) by 14 points and seemed set to cruise to a 15th-consecutive win over ‘Bama.
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Instead, Alabama mounted a furious comeback that culiminated in sophomore forward Jasmine Walker draining a jumper with 1:07 to play to give her team its first lead of the afternoon, 59-58.
“We were just forcing things, we weren’t keeping the game simple,” Staley said of how Alabama mangaged to rally. “We tried to squeeze passes where they shouldn’t have gone. We had less ball movement, so we got stagnant, and they took advantage of it.”
In the end, the Gamecocks were rescued by some late lockdown defense and a strong performance from junior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, her second in a row.
After Walker’s basket, Staley called timeout. On the ensuing play Herbert-Harrigan drained a long jumper from just inside the 3-point line as the shot clock hit three seconds to restore USC’s advantage.
“I just had to get it up and be confident,” Herbert Harrigan said. “I’m confident in my shot.”
On the next three Alabama possessions, Carolina stole the ball each time, with two going to redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper, who also recovered the third caused by redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings. The final theft sealed the victory.
“I just told (Te’a) she just needs to attack and be aggressive, and in the fourth quarter she was that,” Staley said.
Early on, Cooper was quiet on both sides, but the Gamecocks were cruising up 9-0 as Alabama missed its first 10 shots and failed to score until there was 3:48 left in the first quarter.
Into the second quarter, however, the Crimson Tide managed to keep the game close despite shooting just 26.3 percent from the floor for the period. They did so with a substantial edge in offensive rebounds — they had more offensive boards than defensive ones in the first half — and second-chance points.
In the final minute before halftime and the first minute after it, Carolina seemed to reassert control with a combined 10-2 run to boost its lead to 37-23, before Alabama coach Kristy Curry called timeout just 50 seconds into the third quarter.
After that break, the Tide went on a 17-6 run and wound up outscoring USC 36-25 the rest of the game. That stretch was buoyed by seven Carolina turnovers and a 31.3 shooting percentage for the Gamecocks in the half.
“That’s been something we’ve been trying to work on, being consistent,” Herbert Harrigan said of the offensive funk. “I think we’re getting a little better … it comes with time.”
Herbert Harrigan was largely responsible for keeping Gamecocks in it, as she scored 18 points — 10 in the second half — to go with nine rebounds and five blocks.
South Carolina also got key contributions from a pair of freshmen — guard Destanni Henderson was second on the team in points with 11, while forward Victaria Saxton had five second-half points and came up with a crucial steal and layup through a foul in the fourth quarter.
Star of the game: In South Carolina’s SEC opener against Texas A&M on Thursday, Herbert Harrigan had 11 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks. Sunday marked the first time all year she’s followed up a double-digit scoring performance with another one, and Staley likes the development she’s seeing from her.
“I’m proud of (Herbert Harrigan), I’m proud that it’s finally kicking in that she is this type of player. This is what we saw three years ago,” Staley said. “Finally, we’re getting to see it on a more consistent basis.”
The key, Herbert Harrigan said, has been learning to rein in her emotions, which have resulted in careless play and needless fouls in the past.
Staley also said she’s noticed a difference in Herbert Harrigan in practices as of late.
“The last week, she’s prepped a lot differently than our Furman game, and you see it in the statistics, you see it in her growing confidence, so hopefully it will stick,” Staley said.
South Carolina is set to host Florida this upcoming Thursday at 7 p.m. The Gamecocks and the Gators will be streamed online on SEC Network Plus.
Copeland 4-6 0-0 8, Walker 5-15 5-6 17, Abrams 0-2 0-0 0, Johnson 6-16 4-6 19, Wade 4-16 3-3 11, Craig Cruce 0-2 0-0 0, Knight 2-2 0-0 4, Barber 0-0 0-0 0, Berry 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 21-60 12-15 59.
Herbert Harrigan 8-16 2-2 18, Jennings 2-8 2-2 6, Cooper 1-4 3-4 5, Harris 1-3 2-2 4, Henderson 4-6 2-2 11, Grissett 1-1 0-0 2, Jackson 0-4 0-0 0, Saxton 2-4 1-1 5, Williams 0-1 0-0 0, Cliney 0-2 0-0 0, Cuevas-Moore 4-9 1-2 9, Perry 1-4 0-0 2, Totals 24-62 13-15 62.
3-Point Goals: Alabama 5-18 (Walker 2-6, Johnson 3-7, Wade 0-3, Craig Cruce 0-1, Berry 0-1), South Carolina 1-12 (Herbert Harrigan 0-1, Cooper 0-2, Harris 0-1, Henderson 1-3, Jackson 0-2, Cuevas-Moore 0-1, Perry 0-2). Assists: Alabama 8 (Johnson 2), South Carolina 13 (Cooper 4). Fouled Out: None. Rebounds: Alabama 36 (Copeland 8), South Carolina 38 (Herbert Harrigan 9). Total Fouls: Alabama 14, South Carolina 11. Technical Fouls: None, Attendance: 11,392