COLUMBIA — No. 1 South Carolina picked up where it left off last season, opening a 17-0 lead and blowing past Charleston 119-38 in the season opener Wednesday for its 27th straight victory.
Victaria Saxton had 19 points and 12 rebounds and Zia Cooke scored 18 points as the Gamecocks overwhelmed the Cougars for their 10th straight series win.
South Carolina ended last season at No. 1 as the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament champion. The Gamecocks were strong favorites for a national title when the coronavirus pandemic shut down college sports last March.
The team's goal this season — finish what it couldn't last spring.
Destanni Henderson made a layup 5 seconds into the game and the Gamecocks never looked back. Taylor Williams got the Cougars' first point with a foul shot. After the team missed its first 17 shots, Williams' jumper made it 24-5 with 1:37 left in the opening quarter.
It got more lopsided from there as South Carolina continued to push the pace in its first game since defeating Mississippi State 72-62 for its fifth SEC Tournament title in six years.
The Gamecocks led 62-20 at the half and Laeticia Amihere's free throw with 7:47 left got them to 100 points for the eighth time in coach Dawn Staley's 13 seasons.
They soon topped their best-ever showing under Staley, accomplished last year in a 112-32 victory over SC Upstate.
South Carolina had seven players score in double figures and four had double-doubles, including Aliyah Boston with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Williams led Charleston with nine points.
There was an eerie atmosphere with only 3,500 people permitted inside 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena.
South Carolina led the NCAA in average attendance for women's hoops last year, the powerhouse program drawing 12,218 fans a game. The school had sellouts against UConn and Texas A&M and had the top-three most attended games of last season.
Instead of fans, there were smiling cutouts spaced around the arena and the fans who were there sat far apart.
The benches were spaced out, too, with individual chairs for coaches and players at least 6 feet away from each other.
Artificial crowd noise made it sound fuller than it was. South Carolina does not play at home again until Dec. 3, when it faces No. 8 North Carolina State.
The big picture
Charleston: The Cougars went 13-17 in coach Robin Harmony's first season, an improvement of six games from a season earlier. Still, Charleston had little chance against the quicker, stronger, more athletic Gamecocks.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks will likely have more difficult tests ahead. They are set to play South Dakota, Oklahoma and No. 21 Gonzaga in a tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Ten of 11 players for South Carolina sat in their chairs during the playing of the national anthem. A team statement said the players did it to bring awareness to the need for racial equality, social justice and an end to systemic racism in the United States. Only junior forward Elysa Wesolek stood, along with Staley and her staff.
Charleston opens its home season against Wofford on Sunday.
South Carolina will play South Dakota on Saturday, the first of its three games in Sioux Falls.