COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Ashlyn Watkins liked her latest dunk because it happened in front of South Carolina’s frenzied fan base.
Watkins, the 6-foot-3 sophomore forward, got her second career dunk and second in program history when she stole the ball in Kentucky’s end and went in uncontested for a right-handed slam.
Watkins finished with 10 points in the top-ranked Gamecocks 98-36 win over Kentucky on Monday night.
“I did it last last year,” she said of her freshman jam in a win at rival Clemson in November 2022. “But this one was better.”
Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley saw Watkins high-flying skills at Cardinal Newman High in Columbia and at team practices.
When she saw Watkins grab the ball away from Amiya Jenkins in the opening quarter, Staley thought, “OK, she’s going to dunk.”
“She’s normalized it for us,” Staley said.
South Carolina fans were a lot less nonchalant about the move, rising out of their seats at Watkins’ feat.
Watkins came to South Carolina as a dunker, winning the dunk contest at the McDonald’s All-American competition.
She said she doesn’t come into games looking for dunk opportunities.
“I got a steal and said why not try it,” Watkins said.
Watkins, who has come off the bench all season, is second on the team with 46 blocks. Along with double-digit points, Watkin finished with eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a pair of steals.
Staley had talked with Watkins about consistency in her game, particularly on the defensive side. The tendency, especially for young players, is to look for the spectacular play instead of the steady one that leads to team success.
The Gamecocks remained the only undefeated team in the country at 16-0. They lead the Southeastern Conference at 4-0.
Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy praised Watkins’ athletic play, but said her team needed to take better care of the ball in that situation.
“If we don’t turn the ball over,” Elzy said, “there is no dunk.”
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