COLUMBIA - A'ja Wilson's performance at the Final Four has carried over into her senior season at No. 5 South Carolina.
The 6-foot-5 forward scored 29 points with seven rebounds and three steals to help the Gamecocks bounce back from their first loss of the season with a 101-43 pummeling of Western Carolina on Thursday night.
Alexis Jennings had 19 points and Tyasha Harris 10 points and 10 assists to get South Carolina (7-1) back on the winning track after losing 92-85 to No. 3 Notre Dame on Sunday night.
"This was good," junior Doniyah Cliney said. "We had to show one loss wasn't going to affect our game and we had to move on."
Wilson lifted the Gamecocks to a national title last April, going for 36 points and 29 rebounds in wins over Stanford and Mississippi State to win the NCAA Tournament.
"That gave her wings," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said.
The Gamecocks will now move on to their third ranked opponent this season when No. 14 Duke, which defeated No. 8 Ohio State 69-60 on Thursday night, comes to town Sunday.
Cliney believes the team will use its lopsided victory as a boost of confidence heading into another ranked-vs.-ranked matchup.
"We're working on us, no matter what the score was," she said.
With Wilson in the lineup, the Gamecocks always have a chance.
The two-time defending Southeastern Conference player of the year has scored 33, 17, 34 and 29 points her past four games. Staley said she's gained confidence from last year's performance and even without her high scoring teammates in Alaina Coates, Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray - all drafted into the WNBA after the championship run - Wilson has the space to show a broader, more polished and complete game.
"She knows she plays a big role in our success," Staley said.
The Gamecocks fell behind 2-0, then broke off a 17-0 run powered by the 6-foot-5 Wilson and 6-2 Jennings that put the game out of reach for the Catamounts (1-5) of the Southern Conference.
Lauren Laplant, Sherae Bonner and Nikki Johnson had eight points each to lead Western Carolina, which has lost to SEC teams Georgia and South Carolina by a combined score of 177-93.
Catamounts coach Stephanie McCormick believes her team will take positive moments from both those games that will help them compete in the SoCon. "I like to give our team experiences and I hope they can really embrace" the bursts of solid play McCormick saw against the Gamecocks.
It was South Carolina's first time hitting the century mark since last year's NCAA Tournament run as it defeated Quinnipiac 100-58 in the round of 16. It was the Gamecocks' biggest margin of victory since topping Savannah State 111-49 in December 2014.
THE BIG PICTURE
Western Carolina: The Catamounts were terribly outmatched against the Gamecocks and settled for long, outside shots that they won't once Southern Conference season rolls around.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks pushed their size advantage and athleticism on defense to make short work of Western Carolina. South Carolina outrebounded the Catamounts 28-10 the first 20 minutes and forced 15 turnovers. South Carolina needed a feel-good game after its loss to Notre Dame with No. 14 Duke ahead on Sunday.
South Carolina played without Penn State graduate transfer guard Lindsey Spann, who was out with a knee sprain. Spann had averaged nearly 14 points a game and started every game. With senior Bianca Cuevas-Moore unable to play so far this season with a knee injury, the Gamecocks are short on backcourt depth with just four games left before the start of Southeastern Conference play.
Staley said Spann will likely miss Sunday's game with Duke. There's a chance, though, Cuevas-Moore could see her first action this year.
Staley won her 400th game in 18 seasons coaching Temple and South Carolina. What was she thinking about after the milestone win? "401," she said with a grin.
Western Carolina returns home for the first time in more than two weeks when it plays Florida A&M on Saturday.
South Carolina takes on No. 14 Duke on Sunday.
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