Cooke scores 22, No. 1 South Carolina women beat Florida


COLUMBIA (AP) — Top-ranked South Carolina is at the point where it’s sometimes difficult to find things to criticize.

Coach Dawn Staley still was able to nitpick her team after its 87-56 victory over Florida on Thursday night.

Staley pointed to the final quarter, which began with South Carolina ahead 72-39. Her reserves played the last 10 minutes of the Gamecocks' 32nd straight victory.

“They get a little overzealous and they try to do a little too much," Staley said. "Then they start to do the things we need them to versus the things that excite them.”

It’s a product of talent. South Carolina’s bench doesn’t often see the court because its front-line players are among the best in the country.

Zia Cooke led the Gamecocks (26-0, 13-0 Southeastern Conference) with 22 points, including five 3-pointers. Brea Beal had 14 points and seven rebounds.

“I’m just trying to take whatever the defense gives me,” Cooke said. “Me knocking down shots does make it hard to know if you want to close out on me or give me a little bit of space.”

South Carolina only outscored Florida 36-35 in second half and the final period was stocked with as many turnovers as strong plays.

Still, freshman Ashlyn Watkins notched her second career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Kamilla Cardoso had 11 rebounds.

Former East Clarendon star Talaysia Cooper saw some extended run, playing in those final 10 minutes. She was 1-5 from the field, scoring two points. She added a rebound in the win.

“I felt great coming out, I think it was mainly my teammates pushing me, encouraging me, really,” said Beal, who made three 3-pointers and had three assists and two blocks. “I think they put me in the mindset to keep being dominant on offense and defense.”

The Gamecocks showed no hangover from their 88-64 win over then-No. 3 LSU on Sunday, holding Florida (14-10, 3-10) to six points in the second quarter.

“That second quarter has really been a hang-up. It’s been a snag for us,” Gators coach Kelly Rae Finley said.

Florida has been struggling all year after losing leading scorer Zippy Broughton in the preseason. Nina Rickards scored 16 points for the Gators.


South Carolina: The Gamecocks continue to roll in their quest for a perfect season and a second consecutive national championship. They extended their program-record 32-game winning streak and lead the SEC standings by one game with three to play.

Florida: At 3-10 in the SEC, the Gators are trying to avoid playing in the SEC Tournament’s Wednesday play-in games.


Known as a streaky player, Cooke has been more consistent this year and leads the Gamecocks in scoring.

“The way that she’s playing this year is probably kind of what I wanted to see out of her in Year 2. But everybody’s process is their process,” Staley said.


Florida hosts No. 5 LSU on Sunday.

South Carolina goes to Mississippi on Sunday.