DaShawn Harden flitted down the lane on a fast break and did the mental geometry required to bank a shot off the glass.
The degree of difficulty was already substantial. The fact that 6-foot-4 South Carolina center Alaina Coates was standing between Harden and the goal made it like trying to lob a hook shot over the Himalayas.
Harden was denied. And then some. Coates swatted the ball into the court so hard it may have left a dent, then stepped over Harden’s prone body with body language that read smug satisfaction.
The play embodied the game and the gap Sunday between LSU and No. 1-ranked South Carolina.
The Lady Tigers tried their best, had a solid plan and even the season’s biggest crowd to date (2,439) urging them on hoping for an epic upset in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
But South Carolina was too tall, too deep, too accurate from 3-point range to allow it, leading by as many as 31 points in the second half en route to a 75-51 victory.
“South Carolina is a very good basketball team,” LSU coach Nikki Caldwell said, “well coached and unbelievable players. They are obviously one of the best teams in the country.
“We had opportunities to compete, and I thought there were spurts there that we played really good. I thought we were challenged in the paint due to their size and their toughness in that area, but this is something that this team can take and learn from and we are going to move forward.”
After a 68-65 win Friday at Florida, LSU dropped back to 7-7 and 1-1 in Southeastern Conference play. South Carolina improved to 14-0 and 2-0, establishing a school record for consecutive wins.
“I feel like we’re making progress,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “Anytime you can get a road win in our league, it’s pretty special. We really haven’t had a whole lot of success here at LSU because they really do a good job at taking care of their home court. They had a good crowd out there. I just thought our players were up for the challenge of playing hard and trying to get a win for 40 minutes.”
The win was the Gamecocks’ third straight against the Lady Tigers but just their seventh in 29 meetings overall.
Both teams had a strategy. LSU’s plan was to try to pack the lane and allow South Carolina to shoot from 3-point range. The Gamecocks planned to take away senior guard DaShawn Harden, who scored a career-high 23 points at Florida.
It was South Carolina’s maneuver that worked best. Harden finished with a team-high nine points, but eight of them were in the second half after the outcome was basically decided.
“When you have a player that can score and make an impact on both sides of the ball like DaShawn, you have to make her work,” Staley said. “You have to have someone who is equally as energized for the challenge, and I felt like Tiffany Mitchell was.”
Mitchell, a junior guard and SEC preseason player of the year, finished with 17 points but was outshined by freshman teammate A’ja Wilson.
The nation’s No. 1 recruit, Wilson recorded a double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds) and had three blocked shots.
“Anytime you allow one player to go off on you, that’s not a good thing,” Caldwell said. “We allowed Wilson time and time again to get touches. We had people front and behind her, and she overpowered us.”
LSU scored the first basket on a shot down low by Sheila Boykin and was in touch midway through the first half, down just 19-13 after a Stephanie Amichia jumper with 6:25 left.
But Tina Roy responded to Staley’s call to take shots left open by the Lady Tigers’ pack-the-lane tactics, draining a 3-pointer 16 seconds later for a 22-13 lead. The Gamecocks never led by less than nine after that, were up 37-22 at halftime, and went up 56-25 with 11:08 left on a 19-3 run.
LSU returns to the PMAC at 8 p.m. Thursday when it hosts Vanderbilt in a game on the SEC Network. Vandy (8-5, 0-1) lost 75-61 Friday at Texas A&M and hosts Tennessee on Monday before traveling to Baton Rouge.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.