COLUMBIA, S.C. — Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie knew her team had to find a way to stop South Carolina’s All-American A’ja Wilson. But then she saw Wilson’s new frontcourt mate, Alexis Jennings, on video before Sunday’s game.
Jennings scored 21 points and had 10 rebounds — eight of them on the offensive end — taking pressure off the Blue Devils as they tried to stop Wilson in a 72-52 win for the No. 5 Gamecocks (8-1).
“It was sort of sobering watching the film preparing for this game,” McCallie said of seeing Jennings play. “She’s got tremendous value for South Carolina. She’s really stepping up quickly.
The game plan for No. 14 Duke (6-2) was made even simpler after injuries to two senior South Carolina guards. Duke packed it in, doubling Wilson and daring someone else to beat them.
Wilson still got her points. The senior scored 18 and pulled down 11 rebounds to start another double-double streak. The Gamecocks scored 54 of their 72 points in the paint and limited themselves to 12 turnovers, stopping much of Duke’s transition game.
“We could have easily said we don’t have this person and that person and felt sorry for ourselves. But we didn’t,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said.
The Blue Devils kept it close in the first quarter and trailed 21-16 after a 3-point play by Lexie Brown. But after Jennings followed a Wilson miss with a score, Duke never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
South Carolina’s defense also did its job, holding the normally sure-shooting Blue Devils to just 38 percent (22 of 58) from the field, well below their 46 percent average this season. Duke came in eighth in the nation shooting 44 percent on 3-pointers but made only 1 of 10 from behind the arc.
The biggest question for South Carolina was would there be enough help for Wilson. She was only one of two returning starters from the national championship team.
But a pair of transfers— Jennings from Kentucky and Lindsey Spann from Penn State — has come through to keep the Gamecocks among the elite.
They also have fit in with South Carolina’s chemistry. Wilson smiled after Sunday’s game and said she was glad she didn’t have to play Jennings again at Kentucky, evoking a wide-eyed reaction.
“We are a pretty close-knit group,” Staley said. “They really get along with each other.”
Duke senior guard Rebecca Greenwell came into Sunday’s game needing two 3-pointers to become the Blue Devils all-time leader in 3s. She left the game still needing those two treys.
Staley put freshman Bianca Jackson on Greenwell, who missed both her 3-pointers and scored just eight points, well below her 17-point-a game average.
“They were definitely right up in our guards’ grills today,” senior center Erin Mathias said.
Duke: The Blue Devils starting backcourt of Brown and Greenwell averaged more than 36 points a game coming in. But they combined for only 21 points on Sunday. Duke was able to hang with South Carolina in the first quarter by shooting 46 percent. But then the shots stopped falling. Duke now has five games against lesser opponents to get ready for Atlantic Coast Conference play.
South Carolina: With Spann nursing a sprained knee and typical starter Bianca Cuevas-Moore still out with her own knee problems, this seemed like a trap for the Gamecocks. But good shooting and ball movement made this an easier-than-expected win. If the defending national champions get this kind of play most nights, they will be in the mix again in March. “By far the best 40 minutes we have put together,” Staley said.
Duke: The Blue Devils start a five-game homestand with a Thursday game against UNC-Greensboro.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks host College of Charleston on Tuesday before a 12-day break for exams.