COLUMBIA - South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is grateful for MiLaysia Fulwiley's rising basketball profile and for more than what the freshman does on the court.
Staley said when she's out there signing autographs or talking to fans and they see Fulwiley enter the gym, "they go to her and I can get out of there."
"MiLaysia's a rock star," Staley said.
Fulwiley showed that again, scoring 19 points as the top-ranked Gamecocks handily beat Missouri 83-45 with leading scorer and rebounder Kamilla Cardoso off to Olympic qualifying.
When Fulwiley came in off the bench in the first quarter, she instantly lifted the energy in the building and helped turn Missouri's 6-0 lead into a double-digit deficit with a 37-12 run.
Fulwiley hit an early 3-pointer and followed with a simple jumper in the lane and the Gamecocks (22-0, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) were on their way to their 53rd straight win at home.
"I think that's what my team looks for me to do," Fulwiley said.
Especially with Cardoso, who has 10 double-doubles this season, playing to help her home country Brazil reach the Paris Olympics.
"Kamilla's a big piece of what we do," said Chloe Kitts, who had 12 points, eight rebounds and five blocks. "But we all stepped up and we all played well together."
Without their 6-foot-7 centerpiece, things got off to a rocky start for the Gamecocks as the team had two turnovers and missed three shots while Missouri (11-12, 2-8) opened with its 6-0 lead.
It did not take long for South Carolina to get going behind some of its youngest players in Kitts, Ashlyn Watkins and Fulwiley. Kitts and Watkins, sophomores, and Fulwiley, a freshman, combined for 31 points during the run.
Fulwiley finished with six of her team's 15 steals.
The Tigers, who played without injured leading scorer and rebounder Hayley Frank, could not keep up and trailed 48-21 at the break on the way to their fifth straight loss and seventh defeat in the past eight games against South Carolina.
Ashton Judd, Abbey Schreacke and Grace Slaughter had 12 points each for Missouri.
Along with Cardoso, the Gamecocks were also without freshman reserve forward Sahnya Jah, who was suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.
THE BIG PICTURE
Missouri: The Tigers have lost eight of their past 10 games since conference play began and will likely keep struggling without Frank, who has averaged 17 points and six rebounds a game this season.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks showed they can overwhelm a struggling opponent who's best player was out. Facing UConn on Sunday is a different matter. Slow starts might put them in a hole against the Huskies and star Paige Bueckers that they might not climb out of as easily.
Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said the team had hoped Frank would be ready for the Gamecocks, but instead missed her second straight game. There's a chance Frank could be back against Auburn on Sunday. "We hope it's sooner rather than later," Pingeton said.
South Carolina freshman reserve forward Sahnya Jah is suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team.
The program announced the status of the 6-foot Jah about 40 minutes before the top-ranked Gamecocks faced Missouri on Thursday night.
Staley wouldn't give more details of Jah's suspension.
"It'll be day by day," Staley said of Jah's time away from the team. "She'll work toward getting a little bit closer to coming back, but it will be day-to-day."
Jah has appeared in 16 games this season, averaging three points and two rebounds in about nine minutes per appearance.
Kitts and Fulwiley are excited to face the Huskies next time out. Both grew up following UConn's basketball dynasty and can't wait to see what they can do against the still potent program. "We're not worried about what they've done in the past," Kitts said. "Coach (Staley) got us ready and we're all excited."
Missouri returns home to face Auburn on Sunday.
South Carolina takes on No. 11 UConn on Sunday.
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