ESTERO, Fla. — There was nothing elaborate about what Alexis Jennings was doing. She posted up, demanded the ball, executed drop steps after the catch and barreled her way around anyone attempting to guard her.
“My team needed me,” Jennings said.
She was right, and she delivered as well.
Jennings scored 25 points, A’ja Wilson scored 17 and No. 3 South Carolina survived a little shakiness late to beat St. John’s 76-58 on Saturday in the semifinals of the Gulf Coast Showcase.
Jennings started hot and finished hot — she made her first five shots, and then finished by making five of her final six.
“I think I pretty much knew that it was going to be there,” Jennings said. “My teammates, they just found me and I just did what I did, posted up, showed my numbers and they were able to get me the ball.”
Wilson also grabbed 17 rebounds for the Gamecocks (6-0), who won their 17th straight game going back to last season.
The win means South Carolina coach Dawn Staley will go for career victory No. 400 on Sunday night, when the Gamecocks play for the tournament title against either No. 6 Notre Dame or No. 17 South Florida.
“I truly didn’t know,” Staley said. “But what a way to do it, against some good competition tomorrow, either team.”
St. John’s (3-1) made its first shot, and then missed its next 18 attempts from the field. Akina Wellere scored 14 points for the Red Storm, who shot 31 percent.
But they gave the Gamecocks — who led by as many as 23 — a scare in the final minutes. The Red Storm held South Carolina to six points in the second quarter and went 5 for 5 in one stretch of the fourth quarter, getting within 62-53 when Wellere scored with 3:30 left.
Tyasha Harris hit a 3-pointer to stop the Red Storm run, Jennings powered her way for a three-point play with 1:56 left to restore a 15-point lead, and the upset bid ended there.
And now, a championship game awaits.
“It gives us a measure of where we are and where we need to be,” Jennings said.
St. John’s: Some interesting scheduling by the Red Storm: They’re in Florida this weekend for three games, fly home to New York, drive up to Albany for a game Thursday, and then fly back to Florida next weekend for a Dec. 3 game at Miami. … St. John’s has lost its last eight games against teams in the AP Top 25 and has another ranked opponent awaiting Sunday in the consolation game. … The Red Storm used a primarily seven-player rotation, and three of them fouled out.
South Carolina: Between her time at Temple and South Carolina, Staley’s teams have now beaten 113 different opponents. She’s 0-3 against Notre Dame and has never faced South Florida. … The Gamecocks had six points in the second quarter, and then scored seven in the first 1:35 of the third. … South Carolina has a run of at least 10-0 in every game this season. Saturday’s was an 18-0 burst in the opening quarter, the 11th double-digit run in its first six games.
It was the first meeting between South Carolina and St. John’s, and a rare Empire State opponent for the Gamecocks. South Carolina is now 9-3 all-time against schools from New York — five of those games against Syracuse, and one game apiece against Buffalo, Cornell, Fordham, Hofstra, Marist, Siena and now St. John’s.
Wilson had gone 85 games since her last — and only — collegiate 3-pointer. But she tried one in the fourth quarter from near the top of the arc, made it and raised three fingers in celebration. She’s now 2 for 5 from deep in college.
“We’ve been trying to get her to shoot 3s for three years now,” Staley said. “Finally, she started listening to us. She’s selective, she can do it. We don’t want her to get too overzealous shooting them, but it was time.”
St. John’s: Either No. 6 Notre Dame or No. 17 South Florida in the third-place game Sunday.
South Carolina: Either No. 6 Notre Dame or No. 17 South Florida in the championship game Sunday.