TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)After helping set up her teammates in South Carolina’s last game, it was Destanni Henderson’s turn to step into the spotlight.
Henderson had 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists to lead the fifth-ranked Gamecocks to a 77-60 victory over Alabama on Monday night.
”She pushed tempo, and when she is playing fast and downhill she is a hard guard,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. ”I mean, there were times (tonight) when she is playing spectacular. . It was great to see her get it going.”
Henderson, who had just two points with nine assists against Florida last Thursday, finished only three points and one rebound shy of matching her career highs against Alabama.
The Crimson Tide cut the deficit to eight points late in the third quarter, but Zia Cooke scored nine of her 18 points during the final 11 minutes to keep the Gamecocks (7-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) in near-total control down the stretch.
Staley said Cooke seemed to struggle adjusting to the Nike ball during the first three quarters on Monday night. The Gamecocks normally work with a Wilson ball, which Staley said requires a slightly different grip.
Cooke and the Gamecocks also struggled to contain Alabama senior Jordan Lewis, who scored a career-high 28 points for the Crimson Tide (8-1, 1-1), topping her previous best of 27 against Missouri on Thursday.
”We didn’t stop her,” Staley said. ”We just slowed her down and made her maybe pass off a little more than she was doing in the third quarter. So there are glimpses of it, really good play. We know in order for us to achieve what we are trying to achieve, it has to be 90 percent of the game or else people are going to beat you.”
Lewis did most of her damage in the third quarter when she scored 13 points. It felt like all of Alabama’s offensive possessions during that stretch started and ended with the senior driving inside to the basket.
”We just need to move on,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said after the team’s first loss of the season. ”It wasn’t any adjustment. It was just our kids starting to see that I need to be me.”
South Carolina’s starting lineup averaged 1.6 inches taller than their counterparts on the Crimson Tide, and that difference seemed decisive, especially in the first half.
South Carolina actually hauled in more rebounds on offense (26) than the Crimson Tide could pull down on defense (24), giving the Gamecocks a decisive 55-31 overall edge.
That allowed the Gamecocks to score twice as many second-chance points (22) as Alabama (11).
”I’m not really concentrating on today,” Staley said. ”I’m looking at the big picture. . We’re looking further down the line because we know if we stay where we are today, we’re exiting early out of the SEC Tournament, and we won’t get the chance to defend our regular-season championship in the SEC.”
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have now defeated four consecutive opponents by at least 16 points, dating back to the team’s eight-point loss to No. 3 NC State on Dec. 3.
Alabama: Monday’s loss was the first time the Crimson Tide failed to score at least 74 points this season.
South Carolina hosts Georgia on Thursday night. The Gamecocks haven’t dropped a game to the Bulldogs since the 2012-13 campaign.
Alabama hosts LSU on Thursday. The Crimson Tide has lost its last three games against the Tigers dating back to the 2017-18 season.