COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Dawn Staley knows about point guards. And the Hall of Famer saw all she needed the past few seasons to tell her 6-foot-4 Laeticia Amihere had the makeup to direct top-ranked South Carolina on the court.
Amihere, starting for injured point guard Destanni Henderson, utilized all aspects of her game with 11 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and five blocks as South Carolina defeated Kansas State 65-44 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge Friday night to improve to 9-0 for the first time in six years.
“I thought ‘LA’ played great,” Staley said, using Amihere’s nickname. “She had the pulse of the game.”
Aliyah Boston continued her dominant stretch with 21 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks, outplaying another of the game’s top post players in the Wildcats’ 6-foot-6 Ayoka Lee.
Staley remembered an emergency meeting of the coaching staff after freshman five-star point guard Raven Johnson, expected to back up Henderson this season, was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Staley wanted suggestions on who’d be next up. “They were saying everybody but (Amihere),” Staley recalled. “It’s LA, no question. They probably thought I was crazy.”
Amihere has had bouts of missed layups and turnovers in her three seasons. But it’s her intelligence and fearlessness for making plays that convinced Staley.
That was evident against Kansas State (7-2), which fell to 0-14 against opponents ranked No. 1.
Wildcats coach Jeff Mittie was wowed by Amihere’s play. “She really pressed the issue early tonight,” he said.
With Amihere running the show, Boston continued the tear she’s been on since the Gamecocks won the Battle4Atlantis event last month, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds her past six games. Earlier this week, she scored a career best 29 points on 13-of-13 shooting.
Boston wasn’t quite as accurate this time — 9 of 11 from the field — but was every bit as effective against Lee, who had double-doubles in her previous six games.
Lee and the Wildcats, though, could not match up with South Carolina.
Lee, who came in averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds, picked up three fouls in her first 12 minutes and ended with 14 points and six rebounds.
Mittie chose his words carefully when discussing Lee’s foul trouble.
“I think people would’ve liked to have seen that matchup (between Boston and Lee) for 30 some minutes,” he said.
Amihere was happy with her performance and is ready to do what she’s asked whether its down low or in the backcourt.
“It’s my first time as point guard,” she said. “I definitely have a lot of things to learn about it, but I think I did well pushing the ball up.”
Boston had reached a double-double by halftime with 11 points and 11 boards. But things didn’t fall South Carolina’s way until Lee went to the bench in foul trouble.
Up 19-17, Amihere started an 11-0 run with a three-point play, before 6-7 Syracuse transfer Kamilla Cardoso and Boston had inside baskets. When freshman Sania Feagin made a foul shot in the final 40 seconds, South Carolina was up 30-17.
The Wildcats were just 2 of 14 from the field in the second quarter, missing their final nine shots.
South Carolina continued its surge in the third quarter with a 15-5 start, ended by Amihere’s third 3-pointer of the season for a 45-22 lead that Kansas State could not overcome.
THE BIG PICTURE
Kansas State: The Wildcats are 0-2 against teams ranked in the top five (they lost to then-fifth-ranked North Carolina State 90-69 last month) and 7-0 against everyone else on their schedule. With Lee limited by fouls, Kansas State is a different team against top competition.
South Carolina: Amihere showed skills and polish in bringing the ball up, something coach Dawn Staley gushed about recently when facing Henderson’s absence. Things might be more difficult down the road as South Carolina’s next three games are at home to Maryland, on the road against Duke and back home vs. Stanford.
Staley said Henderson, who had started the past 39 games for South Carolina, was day-to-day and could not say if she’d be ready to return for Maryland on Dec. 12.
Kansas State’s two double-digit scorers coming in, Lee and Serena Sundell, had three first-half fouls that took them out of their rhythm. Mittie acknowledged his players worried too much about who wasn’t on the floor when the two sat. Mittie did not want to comment on the officiating.
“I want to keep my money,” he quipped.
Kansas State plays at Omaha on Wednesday.
South Carolina is off for nine days before facing No. 8 Maryland at home Dec. 12.
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