Key takeaways from No. 1 South Carolina's impressive win over No. 20 Kentucky

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South Carolina guard Zia Cooke drives to the hoop against Kentucky on Sunday in Columbia.
South Carolina guard Zia Cooke drives to the hoop against Kentucky on Sunday in Columbia.

COLUMBIA – South Carolina likely has already faced this season's All-American squad so far this season, outside of its own Aliyah Boston and potentially Zia Cooke and/or Destanni Henderson.

Paige Bueckers at UConn, Angel Reese at Maryland. With what felt like her 12th trip to Colonial Life Arena Sunday, add Kentucky senior Rhyne Howard to the list of stars to fall short against the behemoth Dawn Staley has built.

The No. 1 Gamecocks (15-1, 3-1) won convincingly, 74-54, over the Wildcats (8-4, 1-1).

It was second straight win over ranked SEC opponent and outlandish eighth victory over a top-25 foe through their first 16 games in 2021-22.

Staley contract: Dawn Staley contract: USC's Staley becomes one of women's hoops highest-paid coaches

South Carolina shuts down Rhyne Howard

Opposing stars have done their part against USC, like Bueckers' 19 down in the Bahamas or Reese's 20 in the thriller with the Terrapins earlier this year.

Led by Brea Beal, Howard struggled to get anything going against the dialed in USC defense. Kentucky's best player was limited to just 2-of-14 shooting and nine points – she scored 6 of those when the game was already over in the fourth. Unlike the other times it's met one of the top players in college basketball, South Carolina took a star to task and it allowed them to win going away as its own stars cooked.

South Carolina can start fast after all...

Staley has reconvened in the locker room with her team at halftime three times – two of those league contests – in the past six games with a deficit to make up for, most recently against No. 13 LSU Thursday night.

But the Gamecocks sprinted out to arguably one of their best starts to a game this season. The 14-point halftime cushion was thanks in sizable part to just committing two turnovers through the first two quarters.

The defense on Howard was a big catalyst but the driving to the basket by Cooke, who was celebrating her birthday, and Henderson, where they not only converted but also fed Boston and Victaria Saxton that paved the way for 45 percent shooting.

Nine straight double doubles for Aliyah Boston

The preseason All-American forward didn't waste much time collecting her ninth straight double-double, doing so just two minutes into the third quarter. She finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds with five blocks.

Boston continues to be the talk of the women's college basketball world as she grows her impressive streak. This was the first time South Carolina has had a women's player achieve the feat.

Destanni Henderson offensive aggression for Gamecocks

Staley has been wanting South Carolina's standout point guard to be more assertive and aggressive on the offensive end since her return from a leg injury a few weeks ago.

Henderson obviously received the message, coming out the gate looking for opportunities to find the lane for layups or spot-up 3's outside. She put up 10 shots in the first half, posted eight points.

A closer look shows how Henderson's aggressiveness put further strain on Kentucky's defense. When she would drive, Cooke, Beal or Boston would either cut or follow down the lane, all earning quality looks.

Aliyah Boston, South Carolina too much in the paint

The clear advantage was going to be inside for South Carolina against the Wildcats. Staley's bunch lived there and made their money there, dropping a season-high 54 points in the lane.

Kentucky managed 22 points in the paint, but Boston, Saxton and company had nine team blocks with a suffocating defense that held UK to 29.6 percent shooting.

Cory Diaz covers the South Carolina Gamecocks for The Greenville News as part of the USA Today Network. Follow his work for all things Gamecocks on Twitter: @CoryDiaz_TGN

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Key takeaways from South Carolina's win over Kentucky

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