COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP)With the championship banner unfurled and the rings given out, No. 1 South Carolina quickly got started on its goal for another NCAA title season.
Zia Cooke scored 17 points, Aliyah Boston had the 61st double-double of her career and the Gamecocks with a dominating 101-31 victory over East Tennessee State on Monday night.
Boston finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds in 20 minutes.
The Gamecocks (1-0) celebrated their 2022 NCAA Tournament title with championship rings and a banner unfurled in the arena rafters to the cheers of a boisterous, happy crowd at Colonial Life Arena.
As South Carolina’s players watched a video tribute to the 2022 champs, Cooke said ”we looked at each other and said we could cry right now.”
Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley was thrilled as her players picked up rings for winning the SEC regular-season crown and the NCAAs. ”I call myself a dream merchant,” she said. ”And this is the moment you say, you’ve done your job.”
Moments later, though, Cooke, Boston and the Gamecocks went about doing what they do like few others in the country with smothering defense and an inside game that’s hard to match.
South Carolina held its opponent to 4-of-28 shooting in the first two quarters, ETSU missing 15 straight shots during one stretch.
”SEC teams are outmatched by South Carolina,” said first-year East Tennessee coach Brenda Mock Brown said. ”So ETSU is going to be outmatched by South Carolina.”
The Gamecocks closed the first quarter on a 24-1 run to lead 29-6, then built the lead to 55-12 at the break.
Boston, choosing a aqua tint for her season-opening hairdo, was as impossible to handle as she was during last year’s championship run. The 6-foot-5 senior, who set a Southeastern Conference mark with 27 consecutive double doubles last, had her third in a row in new streak that began in last April’s two Final Four wins.
Cooke, along with Boston part of the Gamecocks’ No. 1 recruiting class in 2019, had her highest point total in 13 games, dating back to 20 scored in a win over Auburn last February.
Sania Feagin had 15 points off the bench as part of six Gamecocks in double figures.
Laeticia Amihere’s layup pushed South Carolina past the century mark for the first time since a 104-82 victory over Arkansas in January 2021.
East Tennessee’s Jiselle Thomas, a first-year transfer from Temple, led East Tennessee with seven points on 2-of-20 shooting.
East Tennessee: The Buccaneers were coming off a 6-22 season, have nine newcomers on their roster of 14 and are led by first-year coach Brenda Mock Brown. There was little chance the fill-in program would hang long with the defending national champions.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks has fan-pleasing romp in their opener. They’ll face a bigger test later this week at No. 17 Maryland, which is itching to get some payback for their 66-59 near miss – the Terps led 55-53 with five minutes to go – before South Carolina’s rally.
This opener was supposed to feature BYU, but South Carolina coach Dawn Staley called off the two-game series because of the alleged racial slur directed to a Duke volleyball player at a BYU arena. BYU’s investigation found no evidence of anyone using a slur and Staley was asked at the start of training camp if her actions were hasty. Staley said until she hears Duke’s Rachel Richardson recant her account, the coach is comfortable with her decision.
LOTS OF BIGS
Staley said she might have trouble finding time for all the talented post players on her roster. She has six players 6-foot-2 or taller. Five of those forwards scored in double digits against ETSU. ”There’s a logjam there,” Staley said.
East Tennessee continues its three-game, season-opening road trip at St. Bonaventure on Friday night.
South Carolina heads to No. 17 Maryland on Friday night.
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