South Carolina women's basketball overcomes slow start, beats South Dakota State 62-44

No. 1 South Carolina women's basketball remained undefeated with a 62-44 win over South Dakota State in Sioux Falls on Thursday.

The victory nearly became a nail-biter in the fourth quarter as the Jackrabbits (7-5) cut the Gamecocks' double-digit lead to six points, but point guard Kierra Fletcher hit a clutch three-pointer to kick off an 11-0 run for South Carolina (10-0) as the clock wound down. Fletcher scored five of her six points in the final quarter.

Two Gamecocks finished scoring in double-digits, led by senior guard Zia Cooke with 18.

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Gamecocks offense starts sluggish

Slow first halves are becoming a trend for South Carolina, which trailed both No. 2 Stanford and No. 10 UCLA at halftime before mounting second-half comebacks to win. The Gamecocks scored just 29 points shooting 9-of-33 from the field in the first half and 1-of-9 on 3-pointers. Though South Carolina is third in the country in rebounds per game, the team was also out-rebounded in the first quarter by the Jackrabbits.

The Gamecocks scored 21 points in the the fourth quarter alone — more than a third of their final total — after putting up just 11 in the first. The team finished shooting 34.3% from the field but continued to struggle from beyond the 3-point arc, shooting 2 of 15. Cooke and senior guard Brea Beal hit the team's only threes, and Cooke's came in the fourth quarter.

"I think after halftime we just make adjustments and we try to simplify," Staley said. "At times in the first and second quarter, it almost becomes psychological because they're playing so far off of you that you want that ball to go in. You take a shot that's a little too soon, you take a shot that's not a rhythm shot in our offense and it can make it look like it's not very good offense. I thought in the third and fourth quarters, we just took better shots and put our players in positions where we knew they were going to shoot it."

Brea Beal runs the floor

Beal is known as a dominant defender, and she showed it off against South Carolina with a career-high six steals and five blocks. She also logged nine points, three assists and six rebounds — three offensive, three defensive. Beal led the team in three-point shooting at 33% and tied for the lead in shooting from the field going 4 of 8.

"I really don't think there is another player in the country who can do what she does," Staley said. "She's patient. She lets the stars be the stars and ends up being the star. The offense is coming. I think she's more and more comfortable shooting the basketball, and we've encouraged her to shoot the ball a lot more ... She's irreplaceable."

Beal's nine points tied her season high and came after she scored zero points against both Cal Poly and UCLA. Beal said she felt like her dominant defensive game helped unlock her offensive production.

"Defensively, it makes it so much easier on my part," Beal said. "We have great scorers on our team, and stars bench, you know, for me as a leader, so, you know, for me to get those deals and complete the main transition, it makes the game a lot easier."

Boston, Cardoso dominate as dynamic duo

After both Aliyah Boston and Kamilla Cardoso logged double-doubles in the Gamecocks' win over Memphis last week, the pair nearly did the same against South Dakota State. Cardoso led the team in rebounding with 15 and added eight points with four blocks. Boston was a single rebound shy of the double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds, plus two blocks.

At 6-foot-5 and 6-7 respectively, Boston and Cardoso create one of the most challenging height advantages in women's college basketball. Both are averaging double-digit points per game, and Boston holds a narrow lead in rebounds per game with 9.2 to Cardoso's 7.8.

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: South Carolina women's basketball gets past South Dakota State 62-44