The LSU women’s basketball team played No. 21 South Carolina nearly even for three quarters Sunday. Unfortunately for the Lady Tigers, it was the final three.

LSU couldn’t overcome a horrible start in losing a 76-53 decision at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, cutting off the budding momentum Nikki Fargas’ team had collected in winning its past two conference games.

The Gamecocks worked over the Lady Tigers (11-5, 2-2 in SEC play) on both ends of the floor, scoring the final nine points of the first quarter to go up 29-11. The lead got as high 27 points midway through the third quarter and while the Lady Tigers battled gamely, they could get no closer than 16 points.

“At the start we were just really slow,” said junior forward Ayana Smith, who had her eighth double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. “South Carolina did everything they wanted to do. They came in with high energy. In the SEC you can’t start off slow. We lost the game in the first quarter.”

While LSU was missing layups, fouling and getting stuffed on the boards, the Gamecocks (12-4, 4-0) were doing everything right on the way to their eighth consecutive victory. South Carolina hit 10 of its 13 shots in the first 10 minutes and outrebounded LSU 11-5.

LSU was four of 17 shooting in the first quarter and could never get its running game going, forcing Fargas to burn two timeouts in the first 12 minutes. Khayla Pointer led LSU with 15 points and had six rebounds and three assists but most of it came in the second half.

Mercedes Brooks had 10 points off the bench but starting center Faustine Aifuwa was 0 for 6 from the floor and played only 13 minutes. Yasmine Bidkuindila had a career-high eight points off the bench.

Fargas described her team stuck in “really nowhere” through most of the first half.

“You’ve got to have a mindset when you play in this league and a team like South Carolina,” Fargas said. “Before you step on the floor, you have to have confidence in yourself to go in and win. We had too much indecision; we didn’t really start relaxing and playing until the second half. It’s going to be very difficult to win any ball game when you’re not putting points on the board and then allowing teams to run the ball back at you.

“If we’re not on the offensive glass and not back in transition then where are we? We were in that place of really nowhere. We knew their quickness on the perimeter is one of the best in the country. They executed well with their transition game.”

Pointer made two free throws to help LSU out of an early 9-0 hole and cut the lead to 9-4, but the Gamecocks were off and running again with an 18-7 run. South Carolina entered the game struggling from long range but made all three tries and was 7 of 19 for the game.

“We had a great game plan,” Pointer said. “This one is on us. We didn’t come out ready today.”

The visitors got a balanced scoring effort with four players in double figures, led by Te’a Cooper with 14. Alexis Jennings had 10 points and seven rebounds. South Carolina outrebounded LSU 40-28, including 28-16 on defensive rebounds.

“We haven’t been like that all year but it was good to have a start like that especially on the road,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “I thought we were playing great on both sides of the ball. When you score 29 points against anybody especially an LSU team with a stingy defense, you feel good. Through the course of the game it’s hard to sustain that production.”