TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Dawn Staley has “utmost confidence” in Bree Hall’s ability to knock down shots.
Hall richly rewarded that faith with a career-high 18 points and four 3-pointers in No. 1 South Carolina’s 65-52 victory over Alabama on Sunday. Gamecocks star Aliyah Boston had 16 points and 12 rebounds for her 14th double-double of the season.
“These are normal shots for (Hall) that if she gets them, 90% of the time she’s going to knock them down,” said Staley, sporting Jalen Hurts' No. 1 Philadelphia Eagles jersey in honor of the NFC championship game with the San Francisco 49ers. “They weren’t rushed. They were in the flow of our offense. She was ready. We do have the utmost confidence in her to take those shots.”
The Gamecocks (21-0, 9-0 Southeastern Conference) got their 27th consecutive win in a game that remained close into the third quarter.
Alabama (16-6, 5-4) pulled to within four points in the third quarter but Hall, Boston and South Carolina’s defense took over. The duo paired up for 11 straight points to give the Gamecocks a 48-35 edge, their biggest of the game at that point.
Boston made of 8 of 10 shots and had four blocks and four assists. The reigning national player of the year got plenty of help from Hall, who made half of her 8 3-point attempts.
Coming into the game, Hall had made just 1 of 11 3s and was averaging 2.6 points.
“I feel like when I come into the game, I think more of just let the game come to me," Hall said. "I try to play really hard defense first and then I'm like, ‘All right, let’s try to get it going offensively.'
“I don't usually come into the game thinking about a shot. I just let the game kind of just flow and come to me.”
South Carolina leading scorer Zia Cooke scored six points — 10 below her season average.
“People talk about how good Aliyah Boston is but Zia Cooke runs that team somewhat,” said Alabama's Sarah Ashlee Barker, who scored a season-high 15 points, "You've just got to give credit to that and realize she's going to come out and try to get her shots and we did a really good job of knowing where she was on the floor.
“We just knew we needed to limit her shots and make them really hard, contested shots.”
Brittany Davis scored 11 of her 13 in the first half and had eight rebounds for the Tide, and Aaliyah Nye had eight points and played just 17 minutes before fouling out.
Raven Johnson's layup and a 3-pointer with 1:45 left gave the Gamecocks a 33-23 lead late in the first half. Alabama then ended a four-minute field goal drought with Davis' long 3-pointer with 19 seconds to play, cutting the halftime margin to 33-26.
Alabama did hold South Carolina to 18 points below its season average.
“No moral victories. We expected to win today,” Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. “We came up short (against) a really good South Carolina team. It’s a tall task, literally."
South Carolina: The Gamecocks got 35 points off the bench but shot just 18 of 52 (35%) from the floor. They have won 21 straight over the Tide dating back to 2008.
Alabama: Playing its third game in seven days, the Tide lost 89-51 to No. 4 LSU and beat Arkansas 69-66 on a late 3-pointer. Alabama has lost 41 straight games against top-5 teams.
Staley, an Eagles fan, made it clear she was looking ahead to the big game, just not next Sunday's clash with No. 5 UConn.
“Oh, I thought you were talking about the Eagles and the 49ers. I was so ready for that question,” Staley joked when asked about the Huskies game.
South Carolina: Hosts Kentucky on Thursday night.
Alabama: Visits Missouri on Feb. 5.