Columbia S.C. – It was a celebration of Dawn Staley’s first #1 recruiting class at South Carolina. The Senior Class dominated Georgia in their last regular season home game at Colonial Life Arena. The Gamecocks (29-0, 16-0) defeated the Bulldogs (20-10, 9-7) 73-63 for the program’s 7th SEC regular season title.
Aliyah Boston scored 25 points and 11 rebounds, and Zia Cooke added 12 points. Boston and Cooke, part of “The Freshies” top-ranked 2019 recruiting class, celebrated their Senior Day with pre-game tears, then followed with another fabulous showing as they won their 35th straight and their seventh SEC title in the past 10 seasons. Kamilla Cardoso, the Gamecocks’ 6-foot-7 reserve, also had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Boston had her 78th career game with double figure points and boards.
“The Freshies” have had a winning impact on South Carolina, one coach Dawn Staley believes will last long after they leave campus.
“We’ve had leaders leave a legacy of leadership,” Staley said Sunday after the victory. “It’s still intact.”
The group of five led by reigning AP national player of the year Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke (they’ve called themselves “The Freshies” since arriving as the country’s No. 1 recruiting class) has helped the Gamecocks win three Southeastern Conference titles, two league tournament crowns and last year’s NCAA championship.
The quintet, which also includes Brea Beal, Laeticia Amihere, and Olivia Thompson, has a 122-8 record the past four years and has won 35 straight games since their loss to Kentucky at the SEC Tournament a year ago.
Georgia (20-10, 9-7) kept it close into the second quarter and the Gamecocks went into the locker room up 35-29 lead.
The Bulldogs frustrated South Carolina nearly two months ago, holding Boston to four points and five boards in a 68-51 loss on Jan. 2.
South Carolina heads to next week’s SEC Tournament — only a two-hour drive from campus in Greenville — as heavy favorites to recapture the crown that eluded them a year ago. It would be wise to expect the gamecocks astute fan base to follow them to the Upstate.
The Bulldogs defense was at it again, this time limiting just about every other Gamecock besides Boston to stay within arms length of the defending national champions. Diamond Battles’ basket with 5:58 to go before the half tied things at 25.
South Carolina dialed up its own defense for a 10-2 run the rest of the half to take control. The Gamecocks forced three turnovers and Georgia missed its five attempts during the four-minute span. Cooke opened the surge with a driving bucket and closed it with a three as the Gamecocks to the lead at the break.
The Gamecocks used its dominating height advantage — Cardoso scored all her points in the final 20 minutes — to maintain a double-figure lead for much of the second half. Georgia came in with a five-game win streak, but fell to 0-4 this season against ranked opponents. Battles would be the Bulldogs point leader with 20.