No. 10 South Carolina women bounce back, beat Vandy 95-82
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When guards Lindsey Spann and Tyasha Harris went down a few minutes apart in the third quarter, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley certainly could be excused if her focus wavered just a bit.
Luckily, the defending national champions still have some healthy players.
Alexis Jennings scored a season-high 27 points to lead five Gamecocks in double figures, and No. 10 South Carolina beat Vanderbilt 95-82 Thursday night despite the injury list growing longer.
The Gamecocks (15-3, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) again played without two-time SEC player of the year A’ja Wilson , who has a sprained right ankle, and minus her backup Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan, out with a bone bruise in her left knee.
Spann hit 5 of 7 3-pointers before hurting a knee with 7:16 left in the third quarter and going to the locker room. Then Harris, the SEC’s assists leader, went down with 4:33 left in the third after spraining her right ankle. Spann returned for the fourth quarter; Harris didn’t return. Staley said Harris rolled her ankle when the guard stepped on a foot, and Harris wanted to return. The Gamecocks chose to keep her on the bench.
“It seems like the injury bug is hitting us,” Staley said. “We just have to have a positive outlook and utilize the players that we do have that are healthy.”
Jennings led the way, knocking down 9 of 10 from the floor and 8 of 13 at the free throw line.
“Going into the game, our emphasis was points in the paint, so I feel like I’m very good at getting the ball in the paint very well, and I’m efficient there too,” Jennings said.
South Carolina, coming off an 86-70 home loss to Tennessee, has not dropped back-to-back games since February 2013 and improved to 19-1 coming off a loss over the last six seasons.
LeLe Grissett added 22 points for the Gamecocks, Spann finished with 17, Harris had 12 and Doniyah Cliney scored 10.
Reserve Erin Whalen scored a career-high 25 points for Vanderbilt (5-15, 1-5). Christa Reed added 23, and Cierra Walker had 13.
Spann opened the game with a 3-pointer, and South Carolina never trailed. The Gamecocks led 22-18 after the first quarter and were up by as much as 16 before going into halftime up 48-40.
Coming off their first SEC win this season, the Commodores used a 9-2 run to pull within two a couple times late in the third on buckets by Kayla Overbeck. The second pulled Vandy within 64-62 with 1:57 left before the Gamecocks scored the next nine for a 73-62 lead at the end of the quarter capped by Jennings’ 3 to beat the buzzer.
“We had a great opportunity to come in today to play a top-caliber team who was having some adversity on their own,” Vanderbilt coach Stephanie White said. “Yes, we got better, but we also missed some opportunities for areas that we could’ve exploited.”
The Gamecocks led by as much as 14 in the fourth quarter.
South Carolina: Wilson missed a second straight game with her sprained ankle. South Carolina is in a stretch of three straight against unranked teams in the SEC, giving Wilson time to heal before the Gamecocks host top-ranked UConn on Feb. 1.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores’ ability as the SEC’s top 3-point shooting team helps them keep opponents from running away. But teams like the Gamecocks are able to use their size and length to take over inside, and Vandy was outscored 56-28 in the paint.
Both teams shot well, but the Gamecocks connected at better than 71 percent in both the second and third quarters and made a season-high two-thirds of their shots (36 of 54).
South Carolina visits Kentucky on Sunday.
Vanderbilt hosts Alabama on Sunday.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/teresamwalker