SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Zia Cooke scored 13 of her 18 points in the second half, and top-ranked South Carolina overcame a sluggish offensive effort to beat South Dakota State 62-44 at the Sanford Pentagon on Thursday night.
Although officially a neutral-site game, the crowd naturally favored the home-state Jackrabbits for their first game in school history against the nation's top-ranked team. The stands were about 75% full as a blizzard blanketed the area and stranded fans trying to get to the venue.
“This is a gut check win for us,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “To come here, to have the crowd. We’re used to playing in front of big crowds. We’re not used to playing in front of big crowds on the road. It just prepares us.”
The Gamecocks (9-0) shot a season-low 34.3% from the field, far below their season average of 48.2%, while also scoring a season low. South Carolina came in averaging 83 points per game and failed to reach 80 points for just the third time.
Cooke was 1 for 9 from the field in the first half but exploded for 11 points in the final quarter. Aliyah Boston added 12 points and nine rebounds for South Carolina.
Myah Selland scored 12 points for the Jackrabbits (7-5) and Brooklyn Meyer added 10.
Trailing by nine at halftime, South Dakota State got within six midway through the third period after Selland hit a 3-pointer followed by a pair of free throws from Dru Gylten.
“We knew they weren't going to go away,” Staley said. “We play this game knowing that we are going to be challenged. They are a really good basketball team. They make you pay. They’re patient. They are calculating and intentional defensively as well as offensively.”
The Gamecocks responded quickly after the Jackrabbits got within six. After a bucket from Kierra Fletcher, Brea Beal stole the inbounds pass and scored, giving South Carolina a 10-point advantage in a matter of seconds.
“Looking at this team, they’re a good competitive team and they play hard,” said Beal, who had nine points and career highs in steals (six) and blocks (five). “That’s going to be any team we play against. It’s another game to turn the page, go to practice, look at how we played and see what we can do better.”
The Gamecocks traveled to South Dakota for a game for the third straight year, a trip Staley relishes.
“This is the kind of environment we want to play in,” she said. “It’s very similar to playing in the NCAA tournament, but in December. I know there’s a blizzard out there, but that’s cool too because you never know where the Final Four is going to be, where you’re going to have to travel to. So it’s always good to play in an environment where you really get something out of it competitively, you get something out of it when it comes to hospitality and that makes you feel really good about being here.”
STAT OF THE NIGHT
South Carolina finished with 14 blocked shots, one shy of its season high.
South Carolina: Despite the lethargic offensive output, the Gamecocks remained one of nine unbeaten schools in Division I.
South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits fell to 2-2 against ranked foes. They lost to No. 16 Creighton to open the season but beat Louisville on Nov. 21 and Kansas State on Dec. 10.
South Carolina: Hosts Charleston Southern on Sunday to begin three straight at home.
South Dakota State: Returns to its home arena in Brookings to host Oral Roberts on Monday.
AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25