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LeLe Grissett typically brings South Carolina energy off the bench. This time, the fifth-year senior did it from the opening tip.
Grissett had seven of her season-high 14 points in the first period as the top-ranked Gamecocks opened up a big lead on Monday night on the way to their 14th straight win over Vanderbilt, 85-30.
Aliyah Boston had 11 points and 12 rebounds for her 12th straight game with a double double. But it was Grissett who got South Carolina (18-1, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) off to a fast start.
“It just felt really easy,” Grissett said of her early surge.
The 6-foot-2 graduate student made just her seventh start in 132 games at South Carolina. She had missed the season's first nine games recovering from a lower right-leg injury suffered at the SEC Tournament last March.
But when coach Dawn Staley needed someone to fill in for injured Zia Cooke, she didn't think twice before choosing Grissett.
“She's moving a lot better," Staley said. “Knowing that she's healed up and knowing the things she can do out there for us.”
Grissett scored the first basket, then added her second career 3-pointer. When she scored again next time down the court, the Gamecocks were up 11-3 and on the way to a blowout.
“We’d been working so hard, and the work actually paid off," Grissett said.
Boston added four assists, four steals and two blocks. With South Carolina up 42-17 at the half, the lone drama was whether Boston could continue her streak with six points and four boards the first 20 minutes.
But Boston pulled down six rebounds in the third quarter and cracked double-digit scoring with a three-point play early in the final period. The bench and the crowd erupted in cheers at Boston's accomplishment.
Staley said it was difficult to justify keep her star out there with such a lead. But when Boston returned to the bench, Staley said Boston told her, “thank you.”
Brinae Alexander had 10 points to lead the Commodores (10-10, 1-5), who were held to their lowest point total of the season.
The Gamecocks hadn't played since winning at Arkansas 61-52 on Jan. 16 and it looked like the break only helped.
The Commodores struggled to take shots against South Carolina's height. Vanderbilt's tallest players are 6-2 while South Carolina has six players at that height or taller. That's why South Carolina had a 48-19 edge in rebounding.
Vanderbilt coach Shea Ralph was disappointed with her team's showing.
"It's going to be a long ride home,” she said.
THE BIG PICTURE
Vanderbilt: Ralph has watched such dominance up close as a standout player and assistant coach at UConn. Her first team was worn down by the talented, smart Gamecocks. “It seemed we got a little bit overwhelmed and tried to play their game, which is a recipe for disaster,” she said.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks showed they can succeed even when their best players don't lead the way. Boston and Henderson will need to step up Thursday night when South Carolina faces No. 24 Mississippi.
COOKE COMING BACK SOON
Staley said Cooke should be ready to go against Ole Miss. She wanted to play in this one, Staley said, and was nervously directing her teammates from the bench. Staley said Cooke, who's averaged 11.9 points this season, should be full-go at practice Wednesday.
South Carolina was supposed to play No. 10 UConn at home Thursday night. Instead, the Gamecocks and Huskies called off the game so South Carolina could make up an SEC game against Ole Miss that was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns earlier this month. Staley texted UConn counterpart Geno Auriemma on Friday and the two agreed to the change the next day.
Vanderbilt: Hosts Kentucky on Thursday night.
South Carolina: Plays No. 24 Mississippi in a rescheduled game Thursday night.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25