Victaria Saxton has willingly played a supporting role in South Carolina’s starting lineup, letting talented teammates like Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke lead the way for the defending national champions.
She got a starring spot against Arkansas at the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Saxton scored 19 points and Boston had her 79th career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds as No. 1 South Carolina improved to 30-0 with a 93-66 victory on Friday.
Saxton, whose started 97 of 98 games the past three seasons, loves her role, no matter how big or small.
“I just do my job every game, do what I’m here to do,” said Saxton, a fifth-year player who finished her best scoring performance this season and a point away from her career high.
Saxton’s been as vital for the Gamecocks as anyone, coach Dawn Staley said.
“Probably the highest praise I can give a player is low maintenance and high performing,” Staley said. “V’s been with us five years now. … No complaints, the best teammate, she is our mother hen.”
The Gamecocks, who’ve won 36 straight, took control early and used their talented, tall lineup to advance to the SEC semifinals Saturday where they’ll play fourth-seeded Mississippi. The Rebels ended the long-shot hopes of 13th-seeded Texas A&M, 77-60.
Arkansas (21-12) will now sweat things out until Selection Sunday on March 12, on bubble watch as one of the last four teams out according to the latest projections by ESPN.com.
Staley thought the Razorbacks had done more than enough to make the field of 68. “I agree with her,” Arkansas coach Mike Neighbors said.
South Carolina won’t have such worries, the last undefeated who reached 30 wins for the sixth time in the past nine seasons.
The Gamecocks, who lead the country in rebounding margin, were at it again against the Razorbacks. South Carolina outrebounded Arkansas 74-17 in a 92-46 victory two months ago. The Gamecocks couldn’t quite reach that same margin this time, but had a healthy control of things down low with 51 boards to Arkansas’ 26.
Kierra Fletcher added 12 points for the Gamecocks. Saxton hit eight of 10 shots in 20 minutes. Boston had a season-high five assists and tied her season best with four of South Carolina’s eight blocks.
Laeticia Amihere scored 16 points, all in the second half, as the Gamecocks poured it on. Kamilla Cardoso had 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
The Gamecocks’ defense bottled up Arkansas’ leading scorer Erryn Barnum for a second time this year. She was 3 of 11 for 11 points in the January loss at South Carolina and was 2 of 13 for eight points in this one.
Saylor Poffenberger had 22 points to lead Arkansas.
Arkansas: It won’t be a comfortable week or so for the Razorbacks, who have lost nine of their last 13 games after opening the season 17-3. Winning 21 games in the rugged SEC is an accomplishment, but will it be enough for Arkansas’ third straight NCAA Tournament bid?
South Carolina: The Gamecocks got a boost from its two less heralded starters in Saxton and Fletcher. Saxton was active down low as Arkansas concentrated on slowing SEC player of the year Aliyah Boston and Fletcher’s scoring offset Zia Cooke’s 1-of-10 showing from the floor.
In Mike Neighbor’s opinion, South Carolina is right there with some of the great undefeated championship programs UConn had the past decade. “I’ve been in it 23 years,” he said. “You’ve got to put them in the conversation with the great UConn teams.”
South Carolina’s 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso had her streak of five-games with double-figure rebounds ended with just eight against Arkansas. But the junior believes she’s playing up to her potential after scoring 14 points. “I believe I’ve been more confident,” said Cardoso, the ACC freshman and defensive player of the year in 2021. “I feel like my shots are all going in.”
Arkansas will wait out its NCAA Tournament selection. South Carolina will take on Mississippi or Texas A&M in the tournament semifinals Saturday.