ESTERO, Fla. — A’ja Wilson had a confession after the game: Yes, No. 3 South Carolina was a bit rattled at times by Rutgers.
It didn’t show.
Wilson scored a career-high 33 points, Lindsey Spann added 17 and South Carolina survived a serious test before beating Rutgers 78-68 on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Gulf Coast Showcase.
“That’s something I kept telling my teammates in the huddle, just keep our composure,” Wilson said. “Don’t let them shake us too much.”
Shaken, they were. Defeated, not yet, and not for a while. The reigning national champion Gamecocks (5-0) shot 64 percent in the fourth quarter, 54 percent for the game and extended their winning streak that started last season to 16 games.
Wilson was 9 for 15 from the field, 15 for 17 from the foul line and added a game-high 10 rebounds for South Carolina, which shook off a bit of a slow start and was down by six midway through the opening quarter.
“It’s great to have an A’ja Wilson in your back pocket,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She shows up every game that we need her, and truly we needed her today.”
Tyler Scaife scored 20 for Rutgers (4-1), which got 13 from Tekia Mack and 10 from Jazlynd Rollins.
“Too much A’ja, but we had major issues,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. “We had breakdowns. That’s what I’m upset about. It was the defensive transition. And the bad part about it, we spent the only 48 hours we had to get prepared working on that. We lacked the discipline to do what we needed to do.”
Rutgers used its trademark press and it caused some problems — but what had Stringer upset after the game was how the Scarlet Knights got beat over the top at times, usually setting up easy scores.
“That doesn’t happen,” Stringer said.
Rutgers was within 63-60 midway through the fourth, but South Carolina finished on a 15-8 run. Wilson topped her previous career-best by a point; she had 32 against Maryland on Nov. 13.
Much like that Maryland game, this was a test — and Wilson didn’t mind.
“That’s how March is and that’s how April’s going to be for us,” Wilson said.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights gave up the first point of the game, significant because that ended a streak of 116 minutes, 51 seconds — spanning parts of four games — in which they had not faced any deficit. Their biggest deficit all season before Friday was five points. … Rutgers has 14 players, and not only did they all play but all saw time in the first quarter.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks were 22 for 25 from the foul line. … Wilson added five blocked shots, which was one more than every other player — both teams — in the game had combined. … Even though it wasn’t decided until late, South Carolina led for 33 of the game’s 40 minutes.
South Carolina had a 12-0 run in the first half, the 10th time already this season that the Gamecocks have had a run of at least 10-0. They’ve had at least one such spurt in all five games.
Staley’s third Olympic gold was won in Athens in 2004, when the Americans went 8-0. Stringer was an assistant for that U.S. team. They also coached against each other eight times when Staley was at Temple; Stringer and the Scarlet Knights went 5-3 in those meetings, including an NCAA tournament win.
Rutgers: Faces Western Michigan in Friday’s consolation round.
South Carolina: Faces St. John’s in Friday’s semifinals.