Mikiah Herbert Harrigan stood alone with the ball at the top of the key.
The senior South Carolina forward had missed three of her first four shots to start the game, but by late in the second quarter against the Gators, she had found her groove. After hitting five consecutive shots, she made it six by burying the three.
Like Herbert Harrigan, USC struggled early on, trading buckets and leads with Florida in the first quarter.
But also like their third-leading scorer, who finished with a team-high 18 points, the Gamecocks’ talent advantage showed itself, and the floodgates opened. The No. 1 team in the country flexed its muscles down the stretch, eventually overpowering Florida in an impressive 100-67 victory in the O’Connell Center.
“That’s the No. 1 team in the country,” coach Cam Newbauer said after the game. “I think (coach Dawn Staley’s) team is better this year than the national championship team.”
The Gators (15-13, 6-9 SEC) were competitive with the nation’s top team in the first quarter. Both Florida and South Carolina (28-1, 15-0 SEC) shot above 50 percent (UF at 59 percent and USC at 68 percent).
The period saw three lead changes and six ties, and at one point UF even led by four. But Florida turned the ball over five times and the Gamecocks capitalized, ending the frame on an 11-3 run, leading by 10.
South Carolina looked the part of the premier team in the country in the second quarter. It continued to shoot at a high level, knocking down 56.3 percent of its shots. But for the Gators, the shooting dropped off markedly. They hit just four of their 16 shots from the field in the period and had two lengthy scoring droughts. The second lasted more than three minutes and only ended with a jumper from freshman guard Lavender Briggs with 20 seconds to play in the half.
South Carolina, meanwhile, ended the half on a 12-2 run, stretching its lead to 24 heading into the locker room, though it led by as much as 26 in a dominant second quarter in which it outscored the Gators 23-9.
“We talked at halftime about at halftime just having the discipline and toughness to keep competing regardless of the score,” Newbauer said. “And I think we saw that in the second half, only having three second-half turnovers.”
Florida’s shooting improved slightly in the third quarter, but not enough to turn the overall tide of the game. The Gamecocks were still drilling above 60 percent of their shots, and their lead continued to grow, reaching 30 points by the end of the penultimate period.
With backups on the floor in the final quarter for USC, UF shot above 50 percent but couldn’t cut into the deficit.
South Carolina was dominant inside, out-rebounding the Gators 42-25, and utilized its depth with 22 more bench points than Florida managed.
“They did very well with all their individual talents,” forward Zada Williams said. “They shot the ball well, they got layups, they did everything to the best of their ability, and it really showed tonight.”
Williams and Briggs were two of the lone bright spots for UF, as Williams finished with 16 points and Briggs scored 15.
Outside of Herbert Harrigan’s production for USC, guard Tyasha Harris scored 16 points with a team-high eight assists, while forward Aliyah Boston had 11 points and nine rebounds (which was tied for most on the team).
The Gators closed out their home schedule with a loss, and now only one game remains before the SEC Tournament: a road contest with Georgia on Sunday. Newbauer said regardless of how the season ends, he’s proud of the team’s growth this year.
“Who knows what happens on Sunday and then in our conference tournament game, but I’m just really excited for the effort and attitude that our players have fought with to put us where we are, and for the future of our program,” he said.
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