DAYTON, Ohio -- Several of South Carolina’s players kicked up their heels in the pregame layup line when “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” played over the public address system at University of Dayton Arena.
They danced, then they dominated. Especially the guard who grew up nearby.
Freshman Zia Cooke scored 27 points as South Carolina’s young, quick guards controlled the pace, and the sixth-ranked Gamecocks followed their big win at Maryland by dominating Dayton 75-49 on Wednesday night.
South Carolina (3-0) was coming off a 64-54 victory at then-No. 4 Maryland that represented an impressive early step for a young roster led by shot-blocking freshman Aliyah Boston. The Gamecocks’ backcourt and suffocating front line were too much for Dayton (2-1), which fell behind by 26 in the second quarter and never recovered.
Cooke, who was one of the nation’s top prep point guards at nearby Toledo, Ohio, went 5 of 6 from beyond the arc and had seven rebounds. Relatives and friends made the two-hour drive to watch her best game yet.
“It felt really good to see my family in the stands,” she said. “I heard a lot of people saying my name from every angle. It felt good to know people came from Toledo.
“That kind of had something to do with it. I was just on today.”
Boston has quickly become a focal point of the Gamecocks’ retooled roster -- only two seniors from their team that reached the Sweet 16 last season. Boston had a triple-double in her first collegiate game and led the nation in blocked shots with 15 in her first two games.
While Boston and the rest of South Carolina’s front line dug in defensively, the Gamecocks’ guards led the way to another one-sided win. Boston had 11 points, two rebounds and one of South Carolina’s 10 blocks.
Coach Dawn Staley was pleased with Cooke’s performance -- “I think we’ve got to inject a little Ohio in her every time we step on the floor” -- but she’s hoping her guards develop a better sense of the offense as they get more experienced.
“Our guards are dynamic but at the same time, we don’t have that fluidity offensively that I would like,” Staley said. “It stalls at certain points in possessions. We’ve got to have more ball movement.”
Jenna Giacone scored 18 for Dayton, which shot only 22% from the field.
“Any time you get a nationally ranked team on your court, you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Giacone said. “We just got down early.”
The Gamecocks got the ball inside to Boston for their first two baskets, setting the tone. She had plenty of help. Cooke followed her miss with a rebound and a basket, hit a pair of 3s and added a couple of free throws as South Carolina surged ahead 22-6, holding the Flyers scoreless for the last 7:57 of the opening quarter.
South Carolina’s defense quickly got the Flyers flustered. Jayla Scaife was so worried about getting her short jumper swatted away that she shot it over the backboard.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ physical front line has intimidated shooters. The Flyers missed 22 of their first 26 shots while falling behind by 26 points. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks blocked three straight shots.
Dayton: The Flyers couldn’t keep up with South Carolina’s guards, who drove for baskets and came down with rebounds against taller players. Cooke and sophomore Destanni Henderson each had four rebounds as South Carolina gathered 27 in the first half.
The Flyers lost at South Carolina 65-55 last season in first game between teams. It was the Gamecocks' first visit to UD Arena.
POINTS COME TOUGH
South Carolina is holding opponents to 24.6% shooting from the field.
South Carolina hosts Appalachian State on Sunday.
Dayton plays at Northeastern on Saturday.
More AP women's basketball: https://apnews.com/Womenscollegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
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