No. 4 South Carolina, Cooke power past Alabama 87-63

No. 4 South Carolina, Cooke power past Alabama 87-63
South Carolina guard Destanni Henderson, center, drives to the hoop against Alabama guard Megan Abrams (1) and Hannah Barber (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford) (Source: Sean Rayford)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Zia Cooke scored 12 of her 21 points in the third quarter as No. 4 South Carolina won its 18th straight over Alabama and 28th in a row over Southeastern Conference opponents with an 87-63 victory on Sunday.

Cooke, the team’s leading scorer, struggled to find her touch early on with just four points at the half as the Gamecocks (14-1, 9-0 SEC) trailed. But Cooke, the lightning quick 5-foot-9 sophomore, got it going in a major way after halftime as she led a 15-5 surge that put South Carolina ahead for good.

Aliyah Boston got the decisive stretch started with a go-ahead layup. Soon after, Cooke hit a 3-pointer and a pair of driving layups as South Carolina moved ahead 51-46. When Cooke added another three a minute later, the Gamecocks were up 58-46 and would not be caught.

Alabama (12-4, 5-4) looked for a while like it was ready to end its long losing streak to the Gamecocks, who last lost to the Crimson Tide in 2008 before coach Dawn Staley arrived.

This time, though, the Crimson Tide took advantage of open shots early and shoddy defense near the end of the opening half to lead 41-40 - just the fourth time this season South Carolina has trailed at the break.

Lewis hit a pair of 3s and Abrams another from long distance as Alabama opened a 16-8 lead. After South Carolina rallied to open a seven-point lead, Walker hit a pair of 3s and Destiny Rice drove a wide-open lane to put the Crimson Tide ahead.

Cooke and Boston were just 3 of 11 shooting the first two quarters and South Carolina missed 11 of its final 15 shots in the second period.

Things changed after halftime as Cooke powered South Carolina to its 11th consecutive win since its lone loss, a 54-46 defeat to No. 2 North Carolina State on Dec. 3.

Jordan Lewis led Alabama with 19 points while Jasmine Walker had 15 before fouling out.

The Gamecocks had three others with double-figure scoring: Destanni Henderson had 14 points, Brea Beal had 11 and Victaria Saxton 10.

Henderson also had seven assists and six rebounds.

Boston posted her second straight game with single-figure scoring, the 14.2-point a game performer managing just 6 points on 2-of-10 shooting. The 6-5 Boston did have a team high 13 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.

THE BIG PICTURE

Alabama: The Crimson Tide have had a strong showing this season - their 5-3 SEC start entering this game was its best since 1997-98 - and have had reliable scoring in Lewis and Jasmine Walker. But, like a lot of teams, they don’t have strength to hang with South Carolina for four quarters.

South Carolina: Expect the Gamecocks climb closer to the top in the next rankings. Along with two more decisive SEC victories this week, South Carolina should benefits from losses by No. 2 North Carolina State and No. 3 UConn.

GAMECHANGER

Trailing by one at the start of the second half, 41-40, the Gamecocks opened the third quarter with an 18-5 run, buoyed by 10 points from Zia Cooke, to take a 12-point lead and never look back.

KEY STAT

After its best performance from the free throw line of the season at Mississippi State on Thursday, Carolina went 19-of-20 (.950) from the line on Sunday, the highest free throw percentage in the Dawn Staley era.

NOTABLES

  • The Gamecocks set a new program record with their 25th consecutive regular-season SEC win, topping the previous record of 24 set Jan. 3, 2016 through Jan. 26, 2017. The current record dates back to a Jan. 2, 2020, win over No. 13/13 Kentucky.
  • Carolina outrebounded Alabama 43-30, giving the Garnet and Black its eighth SEC game with a 10+ rebounding margin.
  • Sophomore Zia Cooke turned it on in the third quarter, scoring 12 of her game-high 21 points in the period, accounting for half of the Gamecocks’ 24 points in the third.
  • Junior Destanni Henderson came out hot from the start, dropping eight points in the first quarter on her way to 14 for the game. Henderson also dished out four of her game-high seven assists in the opening frame.
  • Sophomore Brea Beal notched her fourth double-digit scoring performance in the last six games with 11 points on top of her six rebounds.
  • Sophomore Aliyah Boston showed some diversity in her game tallying a career-high six assists to go along with her 13 rebounds, six points and three blocks. Boston now has 133 career blocks, moving her into a tie for ninth place in program history. It is her ninth consecutive double-digit rebound game, the most by a Gamecock since Alaina Coates’ 10-game streak Jan. 3 - Feb. 4, 2016.
  • Junior Victaria Saxton scored six of her 10 points during Carolina’s dominant third quarter giving her back-to-back games in double figures.

UP NEXT

The No. 4/3 Gamecocks (14-1, 9-0 SEC) open up a two-game road trip with a voyage to the plains to face Auburn (5-11, 0-8 SEC) on Thursday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET with the game streaming on SEC Network+.

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