CLEMSON, SC (AP) — Ashlyn Watkins stole the ball in half-court and knew exactly what she was going to do next, putting down a right-hand dunk that got her teammates at No. 1 South Carolina to celebrate brought the feet.
Not a big deal, said the 6-foot-3, five-star freshman. After all, that’s what Watkins did all his high school.
“She told us to relax,” said Gamecocks senior Zia Cooke, who had 15 points to lead the team in an 85-31 win over rival Clemson on Thursday night.
Watkins’ one-armed jam with 3:26 left was the culmination of a dominant performance from the defending champion.
It also stunned trainer Dawn Staley, who thought Watkins would just roll it over the edge and pick it up as part of her career-best 14 points.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Staley said.
Their Gamecocks (3-0) were the most impressive throughout. They used a 16-2 run in the first quarter to take control and used smothering defense and accurate shooting to win their 12th straight win over the Tigers (3-1).
Watkins said it was “amazing” to dip in her third college game.
Cooke, among the players who jumped off the bench, said she was blown away by Watkins’ game.
“Do you even know what you did?” Cooke kept asking her.
Cooke slowly came up early in the game after being hit in the thigh by someone’s knee. But after a few minutes with a muscle relaxer on her left thigh, she stepped back in and continued her perfect half (she was 4 of 4) as she dropped a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to end the first quarter.
Aliyah Boston added 12 points and six rebounds for the Gamecocks.
Amari Robinson led Clemson by nine points.
The Tigers had no answers for the Gamecocks, who shot 64% in the first 20 minutes while holding their opponent off the field on 7 of 27 to lead 46-16 at the break.
The high point for Clemson came early – very early – when Brie Perpignan’s layup gave the Tigers a 5-2 lead in under two minutes. South Carolina then started on their 16-2 run and made seven straight shots to take control.
Things will be a lot harder for South Carolina next time they go to No. 2 Stanford in an early-season showdown on Sunday.
South Carolina, which relies more on smothering defense than precise outside shooting, had both in this game. The Gamecocks shot 68% in the first 20 minutes and made all five of their 3-pointers.
Even Victaria Saxton, the 6-foot-2 forward known for her inside game, joined the shootout just before halftime with her first college 3 pointer in three career attempts, securing a 30-point lead.
Cooke, Boston, Bree Beal and Saxton, all starters in last year’s NCAA title winners, sat in the last quarter with a well-managed game.
Clemson had won his first three games, shooting almost 48% from the field and averaging 71 points per game.
But the Tigers went cold, missing 16 of their 18 tries in the second quarter. Clemson ended coach Amanda Butler’s five seasons with the fewest points in a game.
Butler said her team’s shot selection put her in a hole early on that the Tigers couldn’t dig out of. “We played the game entirely on their terms,” she said.
THE BIG PICTURE
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have come out with a fire so far this season, winning all three games, including an 81-56 win at then-No. 11 Maryland last week, with an average winning margin of 54 points. They’ll need that again if they hope to get past Stanford, who lost to the Gamecocks 65-61 a season ago.
Clemson: The Tigers have lost all four games with rivals South Carolina (the teams did not play in the 2020-21 COVID-19 season) by an average margin of 33 points. Clemson will compete in powerhouse ACC this season. The Tigers were ranked 12th in the conference preseason poll.
Staley wasn’t happy with South Carolina’s 20 turnovers, including two each from starters in Beal, Boston and Cooke. Staley said Clemson applied pressure that the Gamecocks struggled with.
South Carolina: Sunday at Stanford in a No. 1-2 matchup.
Clemson: Playing Thursday night at Paradise Jam in the US Virgin Islands, Kansas.
AP Women’s College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll
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