COLUMBIA, S.,C. (AP) — Zia Cooke scored 17 points and No. 5 South Carolina won its 13th game in a row against Mississippi, a 68-43 victory on Thursday.
The Gamecocks (19-3, 14-1 Southeastern Conference) remained on track for a second consecutive SEC regular-season crown with a showdown for the title at one-loss No. 3 Texas A&M on Sunday.
Cooke got South Carolina out fast with 12 first-quarter points and its defense held the Rebels to their worst shooting performance of the season.
Ole Miss (9-10, 3-10) made just four field goals combined in the second and third quarters as South Carolina’s lead grew to 21 points. The Rebels were just 4 of 34 (11%) in that stretch and finished the game shooting 26.2% (16 of 61).
South Carolina couldn’t afford a slip at this odd weekday start time — Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said earlier this week when she asked her operations people what was a good time to play, she was told early afternoon — with the Aggies looming.
Cooke came out on fire, scoring 10 of South Carolina’s first 12 points.
While she cooled down in the second quarter (she started 0 for 6), South Carolina’s defense did not as Mississippi struggled to find open shots. The Rebels finished the half missing their last 12 attempts and the Gamecocks held a 33-20 lead at halftime.
Shakira Austin scored a game-high 22 points for Mississippi.
LeLe Grissett added 12 points and Victaria Saxton 10 for the Gamecocks.
The game was originally set as the SEC opener for both teams on Dec. 31. That game, though, was postponed due to COVID-19 issues among the Rebels. Instead, Florida, which had been scheduled for Feb. 25, stepped in and lost 75-59 to the Gamecocks on New Year’s Eve.
THE BIG PICTURE
Mississippi: The Rebels have taken steps forward this season (they were last in the SEC at 0-16 last year) but still don’t have enough scoring punch to match the league’s best teams. Ole Miss has lost 10 or more SEC games in six consecutive seasons.
South Carolina: Perhaps due to the early weekday tipoff, nobody on the Gamecocks was particularly crisp in this one. Even Cooke struggled from the field, shooting 7 of 23. Aliyah Boston ended with seven points, her second straight game in single digits. South Carolina will have to be sharper if it hopes to beat the rising Aggies.
Mississippi ends the regular season against its fifth straight ranked opponent at No. 19 Kentucky on Sunday.
South Carolina plays at No. 3 Texas A&M on Sunday for the SEC regular-season title.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25