COLUMBIA, SC – South Carolina coach Dawn Staley has a different approach to practice and it looks like it's working for the fifth-ranked Gamecocks.
Staley said last year's group needed more film study and targeted drills at workouts. This season's team needs some hard scrimmages to rev it up for games.
That paid off once more Sunday as South Carolina got 15 points from Destanni Henderson and took control with a fast start in an 85-49 victory over Purdue on Sunday.
“We didn’t scrimmage a whole lot last year. This year, I just think we need to jump-start how we want to play, what we want to do,” Staley said. “Even it’s for just a short period of time, we feel it gets the competitive juices flowing a little bit.”
The No. 5 Gamecocks (10-1) certainly displayed it, showing no spots of rust in taking apart the Boilermakers after an exam week off.
“Just playing in practice,” said point guard Ty Harris, a senior and the last starter left from South Carolina's 2017 NCAA Tournament champions. “We usually scrimmage, it’s easy stuff, kind of, then it’s, ‘All right, now you got to flip the page and scrimmage.’”
Harris scored 14 points with five assists on the same day she was honored for her 1,000th career point. She had plenty of help from her teammates, six who went for double figures.
“Destanni Henderson’s been playing great, just really, really, solid on both sides of the basketball,” Staley said.
South Carolina took away Purdue’s half-court offense to start and ran past the Boilermakers (7-3) late. The lead slipped to 15 bridging the second and third quarters before the Cooke and Harris connection scored six quick points, around more defensive brilliance.
“They dominated in every area,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said. “They’re a phenomenal one-on-one team. They sliced and diced us. You can’t get into a fast-paced game with them.”
Karissa McLaughlin scored 18 points but had scarce help, as Purdue never recovered from its first-quarter offensive lapse. Hampered by the Gamecocks’ defense, the Boilermakers shot 28.8% for the game while the Gamecocks finished just a shade lower than 50.
Purdue’s 28 rebounds were doubled by South Carolina and while the Boilermakers blocked 11 shots, South Carolina had 11 of its own to add to its nation’s-best total. The Gamecocks also had 16 steals.
“I think we have a team where a lot of people can score if you put them in the right situations,” Staley said. “These are things we’ve been working on where hopefully we can steal some buckets as we progress through the season.”
BIG PICTURE Purdue: The Boilermakers continue to search for a marquee win. They beat decent Drake and Arizona State teams, but lost to Gonzaga, then at Virginia Tech in the first week of December. South Carolina: The Gamecocks started a three-game stretch of higher-profile programs with a win. After five straight games on the road, South Carolina returned to its home court and played its best 10 minutes of the year in the first period. POLL IMPLICATIONS
South Carolina is likely to stay put at No. 5 in the AP Top 25, with only No. 1 Stanford yet to play before Monday’s new poll. The Cardinal were set to host Ohio State late Sunday.
The Buckeyes handed Louisville its first loss two weeks ago, which knocked the Cardinals out of the top spot.
Cooke continues to show why she’ll be the point guard of the Gamecocks’ future. She showed off more of her ball-handling wizardry with 14 points, three assists and two steals, often fooling Purdue with an extra step or uncanny knack to twist around an outstretched arm.
“I’m feeling more comfortable,” Cooke said. “My teammates make me feel more comfortable.”
Purdue hosts its final pair of non-conference games, beginning with Western Kentucky on Wednesday.
South Carolina hosts Duke on Thursday, then South Dakota on Sunday before taking off for another lengthy break. The SEC schedule follows.
More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org