Cooke has career-high 31, No. 1 South Carolina tops Georgia
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson was more than happy with her defense’s effort against South Carolina star Aliyah Boston.
The Lady Bulldogs were far less successful in their efforts to contain Zia Cooke.
Cooke scored a career-high 31 points and No. 1 South Carolina recovered after trailing throughout the first half to beat Georgia 68-51 on Monday night.
Abrahamson-Henderson described Boston as “the No. 1 player in the country” and said holding the star to four points was “amazing.”
“We really were beat by one kid,” Abrahamson-Henderson said, referring to Cooke.
Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year, recorded her second consecutive game in single figures. The 6-foot-5 senior made only one of six shots from the field and had five rebounds.
Cooke, who has scored 14 or more points in six consecutive games, helped fill the scoring void for the Gamecocks. She scored 20 points in the second half after struggling from the field early in the game.
“My teammates are always in my ear telling me to keep shooting,” said Cooke, who made four of 12 3-pointers and 11 of 13 free throws.
Cooke said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley “kept telling me just keep shooting your shot.”
Cooke kept shooting and made five of eight shots in the second half. The Gamecocks outscored the Lady Bulldogs 21-11 in the final period while making nine of 11 free throws.
No other South Carolina player scored in double figures.
South Carolina (14-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) took its first lead at 35-33 on Brea Beal’s 3-pointer with 5:44 remaining in the third period. Kierra Fletcher followed with a basket to cap the Gamecocks’ 9-0 run.
South Carolina never trailed again, stretching its lead to double figures in the final period.
“We just had to weather the storm,” Staley said, adding Georgia “played us as well as any team has played us this year in the first half.”
The Lady Bulldogs (11-5, 0-2) swarmed Boston around the basket with team defense led by forwards Brittney Smith and Javyn Nicholson.
“We were really trying to emphasize helping our bigs down there in the paint,” said Audrey Warren, who led Georgia with 12 points. “They have really tall players down there.”
The Gamecocks were slowed by poor shooting in the first half. Boston missed her only two shots from the field and made two second-quarter free throws for her only points of the half.
Boston ended her field-goal drought by making a layup to open the second half but then missed her next three shots.
South Carolina made only 8 of 28 shots (29%) from the field in the half as Georgia led 29-26 at the break. Strong second-half shooting lifted the Gamecocks to 44% from the field (22 of 50).
Georgia was denied its first win over a No. 1 team since beating Louisiana Tech in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. The Lady Bulldogs’ last win over a top five team came against No. 2 Texas A&M in the 2021 SEC tournament.
South Carolina: Cooke, who made three 3-pointers while scoring 14 points in the Gamecocks’ SEC opening win over Texas A&M, again provided perimeter scoring. Her previous career high was 27 points at Dayton on Nov. 13, 2019. ... Beal helped with two third-quarter 3s, including the Gamecocks’ final basket of the period for a 47-40 lead. Kamilla Cardoso had eight points and seven rebounds.
Georgia: Guard Diamond Battles, averaging a team-leading 14.1 points, was held to one point while missing each of her four shots from the field. ... Smith and Nicholson each had 10 points.
South Carolina continues its SEC schedule at home against Auburn on Thursday night.
Georgia plays another home game on Thursday night against Kentucky.
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