SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — After a scoreless opening half, Destanni Henderson took over for No. 1 South Carolina to lift them to a comeback win over Gonzaga.
Henderson scored a career-high 23 points and Zia Cooke added 16 for the Gamecocks in a 79-72 win over the Zags. Henderson earned tournament MVP honors as she scored 19 points and had nine rebounds in the opening round win over South Dakota.
“I don’t feel like I played my very best in the first half,” Henderson said. “I pushed myself the second half and found some easy baskets. I just had to adjust to how the game was going. I couldn’t get myself deep in foul trouble, and once I recognized that it got easier for my offense to be more aggressive without fouling.”
She sat most of the second quarter after she picked up her second foul. In the third and fourth quarters, she was 6 for 12 from the floor and 10 for 13 from the free throw line.
After Jill Townsend’s 3-pointer for Gonzaga gave the Bulldogs a 62-60 lead with six minutes to play, South Carolina (3-0) got the lead back up to eight in the final 90 seconds. The Bulldogs hit nine 3-pointers, including one by Cierra Walker with 54 seconds to play to cut it to 74-70.
South Carolina outscored the Bulldogs 17-8 in the final five minutes.
It was the second straight game that South Carolina was challenged. The Gamecock defeated South Dakota by 10 on Saturday before holding off Gonzaga.
“I don’t think a whole lot of teams would come out of here undefeated with the talent that was here,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “Those were challenging opponents. Challenging. Some people won’t play teams like this because you’re susceptible to losing. It was good that this core group of players found their edge.”
Jenn Wirth scored 16 points, two shy of her career high, to lead Gonzaga (0-1). Jill Townsend added 14 for the Bulldogs.
“We hate losing, but we’ll be able to use this moving forward,” Wirth said. “It’s a tough first game to come out and play the number one team in the country.
FROM THE FOUL LINE
South Carolina was 25 for 41 from the foul line. During last season’s 32-1 season, the season high for free throw attempts for the Gamecocks was 33.
“That definitely wasn’t in the game plan,” Townsend said. “They’re just so quick and have bigs inside that can move you. It’s definitely something we can work on – how to defend without fouling and how to contest without fouling.”
SHE SAID IT
“A lot of people all across the country looked at us and thought, ‘Why? Why put yourself in this situation?’ Sitting here today, I’m like, why not?,” Staley said. “The rest of the country – games have been canceled all over – while we got to play two quality games. Our players are safe, the testing was great. I hope we can participate in more tournaments like this because it was A1 and it gave our players an opportunity to do what they love, which is play the game, and do it safely.”
South Carolina shot 48 percent from the field, and they needed all of it. Gonzaga shot 52 percent from the field in the loss.
South Carolina: hosts North Carolina State on Thursday.
Gonzaga: Plays South Dakota at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic on Monday.