University South Carolina senior forward A’ja Wilson blocked Temple’s first shot attempt Thursday night and put her stamp on the game early and often.
Wilson led the Gamecocks (11-1), who are ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, with 28 points, 12 rebounds and eight blocks, all game-highs, in their 87-60 at the Liacouras Center.
“I love defense,” Wilson said. “I go out there and take what the defense gives me. If that’s blocking shots, then that’s how I get my defensive stops in.”
Temple never led in the contest against the reigning Division I champions and fell to 8-4 on the season. The Owls don’t play again until their American Athletic Conference opener on Dec. 30 against Central Florida.
Wilson and Temple senior guard Tanaya Atkinson entered the game as the third and fourth leading scorers in Division I. Atkinson scored a season-low 14 points, but she reached the 1,500-career-point milestone in the first half. She is also four rebounds shy of tying Rhonda Bates, who played from 1986-90, for fourth in program history.
The Gamecocks jumped ahead 26-9 on the Owls after the first quarter, when they shot 52.4 percent from the field. They never looked back. South Carolina shot 50 percent or better in all four quarters.
Three Gamecocks besides Wilson scored in double figures. Freshman guard Bianca Jackson had 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting, sophomore guard Tyasha Harris had 13 points and 11 assists and junior guard Doniyah Cliney had 10 points.
South Carolina controlled the pace by locking Temple down with 13 blocked shots and nine steals. Temple had neither of each. The Gamecocks forced Temple to shoot 26.7 percent from the floor on the night.
Atkinson had a rough night from the field, shooting 4-for-15 from the floor, but she gave an all-around effort by grabbing nine rebounds and dishing a team-high six assists.
“The way we like to play is to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket,” coach Tonya Cardoza said. “They have that size and length inside there. We had to settle sometimes.”
Despite losing the game, Cardoza was impressed with the effort she received from her freshmen against a championship team.
Freshman forward Mia Davis scored a team-high 19 points and added 10 rebounds for her fourth double-double of the season. Davis’ 19 points were a team-high and fell just two short of her career-high 21 against Delaware State University on Nov. 10. Freshman guard Emani Mayo scored 13 points of her own.
The Owls shot 8-for-16 from 3-point range. Davis made all three of her 3-point attempts, and Mayo shot 3-for-6 from beyond the arc.
“We had two freshmen that started against South Carolina, and they weren’t intimidated by it,” Cardoza said. “I like that two freshmen were out there giving it all they had. I think that is gonna help us so much down the line.”
South Carolina coach and former Temple coach Dawn Staley became the Gamecocks’ all-time winningest coach with her win Thursday. She coached at Temple from 2000-08 before Cardoza, who played with her at the University of Virginia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, took over the role.
Staley, who grew up in North Philadelphia, was the Owls’ all-time winningest coach before Cardoza passed her last season. Thursday was the first time Staley coached against Temple since leaving for South Carolina.
“Philadelphia is a city that loves on so many levels,” Staley said. “To come back and share these moments [is] truly worthwhile.”