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Sports

Defending champ No. 4 South Carolina opens with 99-31 win

A'ja Wilson scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds to lead No. 4 South Carolina to a 99-31 win over Alabama State. The party started before final warmups, with SEC championship rings passed out and the title banner unveiled in the rafters.

CORRECTS TO RECEIVING SEC CHAMPIONSHIP RING- South Carolina forward A'ja Wilson, left, and head coach Dawn Staley celebrate after receiving their SEC championship rings before an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford), CORRECTS TO RECEIVING SEC CHAMPIONSHIP RING- South Carolina forward A'ja Wilson, left, and head coach Dawn Staley celebrate after receiving their SEC championship rings before an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
2 weeks ago

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley keeps the net she cut down after winning the national title hanging on her rear view mirror.

And after the title banner dropped before Friday’s 99-31 win over Alabama State, Staley said it is time for her No. 4 Gamecocks (1-0) to put the title in their rear view mirrors too.

“We’ve moved on,” Staley said. “We’re a lot different. We look different.”

Not everything is different. Two-time all-American A’ja Wilson scored 16 points and had 10 rebounds in just 14 minutes.

Penn State transfer Lindsey Spann, the Lady Lions leading scorer a year ago, added 16 points of her own for a team that had three players in the top 10 picks of this year’s WNBA draft.

The party started before Friday’s warmups. The SEC championship rings were passed out and confetti poured down as the title banner dropped.

“We threw the confetti in so they could get a good sense of what we felt in Dallas,” said Staley, whose Gamecocks beat Mississippi State 67-55 to win the school and her first national title.

The party continued after the tip. Alabama State’s Amber Hunt hit a 3 to put the Lady Hornets (0-1) up 3-2. South Carolina would score the next 23 points. The Gamecocks also ended the first half with another 23-0 run.

The 68-point margin was the second-largest win at South Carolina for Staley.

The Gamecocks forced 29 turnovers and held Alabama State to 20 percent (11-of-54) shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama State: Ten of the 11 Lady Hornets who played scored. Hunt led the team with eight points. Alabama State is picked to finish third in the Southwestern Athletic Conference after finishing third last season.

South Carolina: Staley opens her 10th season with the Gamecocks. No coach in the Southeastern Conference has been with a team longer. Friday’s game ended a whirlwind offseason for Staley. She took over the U.S. national team this summer along with countless appearances across the country. Senior and likely starter Bianca Cuevas-Moore sat out Friday with a sore knee and Staley said she will likely miss the next game too.

MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION

For one player and coach, this game was extra special.

Lady Hornets coach Freda Freeman-Jackson got to see her daughter Bianca Jackson’s college debut for the Gamecocks. The freshman had eight points and six rebounds and found herself getting instructions from both ends of the floor.

“I gave her some looks. Get up on your shot! Your shot is flat!” Freeman-Jackson said, recalling her advice.

Mom said she was proud Friday, especially after Jackson didn’t score in South Carolina’s 116-56 exhibition win over Coker.

“How do y’all have 116 points and you’re not on the board,” Freeman-Jackson said she asked her daughter while in town.

FIFTH WHEEL

While everyone celebrated the national title, Spann just watched. But she said the ceremony will serve as motivation.

“It’s something I definitely want to be a part of. That’s still another goal for this season,” Spann said.

UP NEXT

Alabama State: The Lady Hornets play their home opener on their redesigned floor at the Dunn-Oliver Acadome on Monday against Savannah State.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks get a much tougher test Monday at No. 15 Maryland.

___

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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