No. 1 Gamecocks stay perfect in showdown win over No. 3 LSU
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — LSU coach Kim Mulkey understands dominance and saw it again on Sunday.
“It’s South Carolina, in my opinion,” she said flatly, “and it’s everybody else.”
Kamilla Cardoso had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Zia Cooke scored 17 points and the top-ranked Gamecocks (25-0, 12-0 Southeastern Conference) stayed perfect with an 88-64 victory over No. 3 LSU for their 31st straight win.
In the showdown of Division I’s final two undefeateds, it was no contest — something Mulkey has had experience with in the past.
Mulkey led Baylor to three national titles, her crown in 2011-12 coming with her 40-0 team. It won’t surprise her if these Gamecocks, already defending national champs, pull off that feat this season — especially the way they handled the rising Tigers (23-1, 11-1).
“They have things that we don’t have and a lot of teams in the country don’t have who aspire to be there one day,” she said.
That was obvious from the start. South Carolina broke out to an 18-2 lead. LSU cut things to five a handful of times, including early in the third period, but could not come any closer.
Aliyah Boston finished with 14 points and nine boards.
The game, billed as a showcase between reigning AP player of the year Boston and Angel Reese, quickly become a highlight reel of South Carolina’s experience, talent and depth.
Boston and Reese entered this with a combined 39 double doubles this season. Instead, it was the 6-foot-7 backup Cardoso who collected double figure points and rebounds.
Reese, the 6-foot-3 dominator, couldn’t get going against the Gamecocks’ withering inside presence, going 5-of-15 shooting for 16 points and four rebounds for her first game this season without double figure boards.
Boston, South Carolina’s career record holder with 76 games in double figure points and rebounds, also came up short with of that standard. Not that it mattered as she twice blocked Reese’s shots in the third quarter as South Carolina took control for good.
Reese held her hands up, wondering where the foul was as she sat on the court.
Boston was grateful for the attention that led people to fill the building and tune in on TV. Her team’s approach, though, was simple: “Ehh, it’s just another game,” she said.
LSU cut a 10-point halftime deficit to 45-40 on Reese’s inside bucket midway through the third quarter. But South Carolina closed the period on a 19-8 burst finished by Brea Beal’s second 3-pointer.
Her teammates rushed her after time ran out, celebrating like they had won a title. The Gamecocks sure proved who runs things this year in the women’s game.
“When you have that type of commitment, you’re going to win games like this,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said.
The sold-out crowd was loud and raucous from the jump and went crazy when Staley, a Philadelphia native, came out in a classic Eagles’ Randall Cunningham jersey for her team’s Super Bowl Sunday warm up with LSU.
The Gamecocks then gave them even more to yell about as they took off on an 18-2 start the first six minutes that threatened to run the Tigers out of the building. Cooke scored six points in the surge while Brea Beal had a 3-pointer and a three-point play.
Alexis Morris led LSU with 23 points.
Boston and Cardoso each had three blocks for the Gamecocks.
LSU: The Tigers were off to a strong start, but not faced a team like the Gamecocks. Second-year coach Kim Mulkey will have to come up with a better plan since it’s likely these team will play for the SEC Tournament title in three weeks.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks just continue their march toward more titles. In what was considered a defining stretch — UConn last Sunday, LSU a week later — South Carolina once more relied on its defensive dominance to remain perfect.
FLY EAGLES FLY
Staley was decked out in Eagles swag for her postgame appearance. She wore a silver, oversized souvenir chain with the Eagles logo. She texted Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts after the team’s NFC Championship win, saying, “One more.” Hurts answered back with, “Let’s go.”
The Gamecocks followed up their 35-2 national title season by separating themselves from the rest of the country. They’ve won six games against ranked teams including victories at No. 2 Stanford and at No. 5 UConn before taking down LSU.
LSU returns home to face Mississippi on Thursday night.
South Carolina is home against Florida on Thursday night.
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