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Cooke, reserves lead No. 1 South Carolina women over Liberty
Cooke, reserves lead No. 1 South Carolina women over Liberty
Women's Basketball  . 

Cooke, reserves lead No. 1 South Carolina women over Liberty

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) —  Dawn Staley wasn’t mad with her starters. Top-ranked South Carolina, because of its deep bench, is constantly tinkering with its rotations.

So sending in Raven Johnson, Laeticia Amihere, Talaysia Cooper, Bree Hall and Kamilla Cardoso in favor of Kierra Fletcher, Zia Cooke, Brea Beal, Victaria Saxton and Aliyah Boston midway through the first quarter of Sunday’s 88-39 romp over Liberty wasn’t sending a message. It was simply, “Let’s try this.”

Zia Cooke vs. Liberty

“We’ve been working that unit all week, trying to get them to be an impressive unit for us. It wasn’t pretty, but I wanted to see what they looked like in a game situation,” Staley said. “It wasn’t bad. I liked the energy, I liked the effort. We just got to know how to transition out of it.”

The bench spurted the Gamecocks to an 11-4 run and the rest of the game was a formality. The defending national champion’s collection of talent was far too much for the Flames (3-5).

Zia Cooke scored 20 points to lead South Carolina while Sania Feagin added 14 off the bench. Aliyah Boston, the reigning National Player of the year, scored 13 points with six rebounds.

Mya Berkman led Liberty with 17 points.

The Gamecocks (9-0), returning from their exam break, were able to play the end of their bench throughout the fourth quarter. Liberty, just trying to hang on in a brutal stretch of nine games with only one at home, quickly succumbed.

“Our challenge is being consistent, and that’s a simple word that covers a lot of areas,” Flames coach Carey Green said. “Just learning that, we need to understand the game is not a powder-puff game. It’s a physical game.”

Boston shrugged off the line change that Staley ordered when the Gamecocks had a mere 10-7 lead.

“It made us chuckle,” Boston said. “She wanted to substitute, to get a different kind of defense going.”

Notables:

  • Birthday Baller: Aliyah Boston celebrated her 21st with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, a block and a steal
  • Zia Cooke posted a new season high 20 points (the first of 20+ points of the season), tallying 8 in the second quarter and 10 in the third
  • Defense was hot, keeping Liberty to just 4-15 in the second period and forcing seven turnovers
  • The Gamecocks’ 11-0 start to the second half saw two consecutive buckets from Cooke, followed by a 3 from Brea Beal and another two straight layups from Boston
  • South Carolina out-scored the Lady Flames 25-6 in the third quarter with four of Liberty’s points coming from free throws
  • Sania Feagin exploded off the bench, putting up 12 of the team’s 21 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with a season-high 14 and tying her career high with three blocks