COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A'ja Wilson scored a career-high 26 points and top-ranked South Carolina rode a 28-6 first-half run to rout LSU 86-62 on Thursday night. The Tigers (14-10, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) had won four straight and seven of nine coming in.
But 12 steals and 18 fast-break points from freshman of the year candidate Wilson broke open a close game as the Gamecocks (23-1, 11-0) unleashed their galaxy of stars.
Wilson had 14 first-half points, including the first 3-pointer of her college career, as she and Khadijah Sessions led the assault. Sessions had 12 and Tiffany Mitchell had 11.
The Tigers stayed with the Gamecocks early, scoring in transition and winning the rebounding tussle. Down 20-14 with nine minutes to go in the first half, LSU was starting to heat up behind its big three of Raigyne Moncrief, Danielle Ballard and Sheila Boykin.
But they had no answer for USC's barrage.
"Coach just told us we had to come out and be aggressive, we had to know where people at," Sessions said. "She did tell us to pick it up at one point because they were getting too many offensive rebounds. We got it together."
The Tigers had three field goals in the final 10 minutes of the half, all by Moncrief. She finished with 10 while Ballard's 16 led the team. Anne Pedersen scored 11 while Sheila Boykin had 12.
"We've got to be a team that can give our starters some breaks," coach Nikki Caldwell said. "When we went to our bench, we talk about establishing and maintaining. I thought South Carolina's bench did exactly that for them."
The Gamecocks returned to practice after the nationally televised 87-62 loss to the second-ranked Huskies on Monday disappointed but upbeat about their season. Coach Dawn Staley said she found a lot to work on and her practices since have been tweaking ways in which to eventually beat the Huskies.
Thursday was a good start.
While USC didn't play nearly as well in the second half, the final 10 minutes of the first half put LSU to sleep. The Gamecocks continued gunning for a repeat SEC championship, although Tennessee remains tied with USC at the top of the standings.
"We were still going to have to focus on LSU," Wilson said. "We learned from that game. Take what we did and learn not to do it the next time."
The UConn loss didn't seem to have any other residual effects. Nobody was feeling down a few days later.
"I learned what I've always known -- we're a good basketball team." Staley said. "Nothing and no situation will ever take that away. You saw a team that wanted to win. They performed that way."
Wilson's 3-pointer to end USC's first-half scoring was her first attempt of the year. She has now made the last two 3-point attempts of the year -- the last was to force overtime in the state championship game last year. Heathwood Hall went on to win the title.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks continue to sail full-steam toward a Feb. 23 matchup hosting Tennessee. The Lady Vols stayed perfect in the SEC with a win over Ole Miss on Thursday, matching USC's 11-0 SEC record. If each team remains undefeated until Feb. 23, the matchup will likely decide the SEC regular-season championship and No. 1 seed for the SEC tournament.
LSU: Raigyne Moncrief continues to point the Tigers toward the NCAA tournament. The sophomore guard has scored in double figures in seven of her last eight games. LSU's overall record is 14-10, but the Tigers may finish in the SEC's top four; its latest RPI of 67 could use a boost but it's nothing that can't be handled with a strong end-of-season run.
South Carolina: Hosts Vanderbilt on Sunday.
LSU: Hosts Georgia on Feb. 19.