A couple steps in front of her bench, Alabama women’s basketball coach Kristy Curry covered her face with a notecard as she yelled in protest of a questionable blocking foul that came at the expense of her senior leader Ashley Williams.
The next South Carolina bucket by Bianca Jackson came 10 seconds later, narrowing Alabama’s first-quarter lead to just one, and kickstarting the Gamecocks to a 79-66 win over the Crimson Tide on Thursday night at Ceoleman Coliseum.
Against the defending national champions, even the slightest change of momentum can lead to an avalanche of scoring that will put a game out of reach.
“There were just a couple of times in the first quarter, and especially the second, where we subbed people out and gave up two straight threes. Then we put them on the free-throw line,” Curry said. “You just can’t do those things against a team that doesn’t make many mistakes.”
Until the final seconds of the first quarter, the Crimson Tide was having one of its best starts this season against the No. 7 Gamecocks. UA led for 9 minutes and 23 seconds of the first 10 minutes, but saw its lead slip away in the final 10 seconds of that span when South Carolina scored an easy layup from a turnover to take a 21-20 lead.
The Gamecocks shot 75 percent from the floor in the second quarter, and used a 10-0 run in the first two minutes of the period to open a double-digit lead. Tyasha Harris, the Southeastern Conference’s assist leader, chipped in 12 first-half points to lead all scorers in the first 20 minutes.
“You can’t miss easy baskets,” Curry said. “(Missing) easy baskets are kind of like turnovers on the other end. It’s a turnover when you miss an easy basket. And we just couldn’t get stops. When things aren’t going your way, you can control what you do defensively.”
Aside from Harris, A’ja Wilson, the SEC’s leading scorer, performed as one of the best players in the conference yet again. The senior scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Gamecocks.
“If you’re saying that she gets 21, then you have got to do a better job around her,” Curry said. “I just thought at times in critical moments — you have to contest every shot — we left some kids uncontested when she would kick it or the ball would come out.”
Alabama outscored the Gamecocks 36-34 in the second half, at one point narrowing the South Carolina lead to just eight in the final quarter, but failed to completely climb out of its 15-point halftime hole.
One of the few bright spots for Alabama came on the glass. The Crimson Tide out-rebounded South Carolina 42-36, generating nine second-chance points that helped keep pace with the Gamecocks’ potent offense in the second half.
“Over and over I sit here and look at the stat sheet and we just, again, our effort and numbers are there,” Curry said. “We just aren’t cleaning those numbers up with finishes.”
Hannah Cook and Shaquera Wade led Alabama in scoring with 13 points each. The Crimson Tide will go on the road to play Ole Miss on Sunday.