CLEMSON, South Carolina — Ashlyn Watkins stole the ball at halffield and knew exactly what to do next, throwing a right dunk that got her first South Carolina teammates to their feet in celebration.
No big deal, said the 6-foot-3 freshman, who is 6-foot-3. After all, Watkins did it all the time in high school.
“You told us to relax,” said Gamecocks chief executive Zia Cooke, who had 15 points to lead the team in an 85-31 win over rival Clemson.
Watkins’ one-arm jam with 3:26 to play was the brake on a dominant display by the defending champion.
Also startled coach Don Staley, who thought Watkins was going to roll her over the edge and as part of a career-best 14 points.
“That’s impressive,” Staley said.
Her Gamecocks (3-0) have been more impressive throughout. They used a 16-2 halftime lead to dominate and used stifling defense and accurate shooting to win their 12th straight over the Tigers (3-1).
Watkins said the dunk in her third college game was “amazing”.
Among the players who jumped off the bench, Cook said her mind was blown away by Watkins’ play.
“Do you even know what I did?” Cook kept asking her.
Cooke slowly rallied early in the match after being hit by someone’s knee in her thigh. But after a few minutes using a muscle relaxer in her left thigh, she got in again and continued her perfect half (she was a 4 of 4) while draining a 3-pointer right before the bell to finish the first quarter.
Boston’s Alia added 12 points and six rebounds for the Gamecocks.
Amari Robinson led Clemson with nine points.
The Tigers had no answers for the Gamecocks, who shot 64% in the first 20 minutes while holding their opponents to 7-of-27 from the field to lead 46-16 at the break.
Clemson’s highlight came early — very early — when Brie Perpignan put up a layup for the Tigers to make it 5-2 in less than two minutes. South Carolina then cruised 16-2, hitting seven straight shots to take control.
Things will get even tougher for South Carolina next time they head to second-ranked Stanford on Sunday in an early-season showdown.
South Carolina, which relies more on stifling defense than accurate outside shooting, had both in this one. The Gamecocks shot 68% in the first 20 minutes and made all three of their throws.
Even Victoria Saxton, a 6-foot-2 forward who’s known for her inside game, joined the shooting party with her first collegiate 3-pointer on three career attempts just before halftime with a 30-point lead.
Cook, Boston, Brie Bell and Saxton, all starters on last year’s NCAA title winners, sat out the fourth quarter with the game in hand.
Clemson won their first three games, shooting nearly 48% from the field and averaging 71 points a game.
But the Tigers caught a cold and lost 16 of 18 attempts in the second quarter. Clemson finished with the fewest points in a game in coach Amanda Butler’s five seasons.
Butler said her team’s choice to shoot early put them in a hole the Tigers could not get out of. “We played the game entirely on their terms,” she said.
The Big Picture
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have been on fire so far this season, winning all three games including an 81-56 victory in that time. 11 Maryland last week, by an average margin of 54 points. They’ll need it again if they hope to get past Stanford, which lost to the Gamecocks 65-61 a season ago.
Clemson: The Tigers have lost all four games with rival South Carolina (the teams did not play during the 2020-21 COVID-19 season), by an average margin of 33 points. Clemson will face the ACC this season. The Tigers were selected 12th in the preseason conference poll.
Staley was not pleased with South Carolina’s 20th drive, including two tackles by starters on Beal, Boston, and Cooke. Clemson used pressure that the Gamecocks had difficulty dealing with, Staley said.
South Carolina: At Stanford on Sunday, game 1 vs. 2.
Clemson: Kansas State plays Thursday night at Paradise Jam in the US Virgin Islands.