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Why South Carolina's Tyasha Harris is one of the top point guards in the country

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Harris' midrange jumper sinks Miss. St. (0:16)

Tyasha Harris drains a midrange jump shot that propels South Carolina to an 81-79 victory over Mississippi State. (0:16)

During South Carolina's biggest moment of the season to date, the top-ranked Gamecocks trailing No. 9 Mississippi State by three points with 2:45 to play, coach Dawn Staley called a timeout.

But senior guard Tyasha Harris, not the coaching staff, did the talking in the huddle.

And then she backed it up. Harris scored the game's final five points, leading South Carolina to an 81-79 victory last Monday, its third win over a top-10 team this season.

"When times are hard," freshman guard Zia Cooke said, "we look at her and she keeps us going."

Harris, espnW's national player of the week, delivered on and off the court in the biggest game of the year in the SEC. And South Carolina is ranked No. 1 for a third consecutive week in the AP Top 25 poll.

In a week in which the routine wizardry of Oregon's Sabrina Ionescu was on full display, Ruthy Hebard's defense, rebounding and efficiency played a key role in two huge wins over Oregon State, UConn and Tennessee renewed their rivalry, and Kathleen Doyle again lifted Iowa to a pair of second-half comebacks, Harris was still the standout.

And it went far beyond late-game heroics against Mississippi State. Harris scored or assisted on 20 of the Gamecocks' first 22 points. She finished with 23 points and seven assists as South Carolina cleared its biggest obstacle to winning an SEC regular-season championship.

South Carolina is now 19-1, with nine of those wins coming over top-50 RPI teams. That's two more wins than any other team in the all-important category in the NCAA tournament selection process. Those include a 15-point victory over Baylor, the only other team with a possible claim as the best in the country. Harris had 20 points and seven assists in that one.

A starter since her freshman year, when South Carolina won the 2017 NCAA title, Harris struggled with consistency and being comfortable in the biggest moments early in her career. But the confidence has blossomed, and her leadership has been instrumental in creating a chemistry with South Carolina's highly regarded freshmen, who have exceeded expectations all season.

Harris' statistics weren't as impressive in Sunday's 35-point win over Georgia, but they were just as important. Nine of Harris' 13 points came in the first quarter when the Gamecocks jumped to a 20-point lead. Her 3-pointer started a 14-0 run that essentially put away the Bulldogs before the 6,047 fans in Athens had a chance to settle in.

When it mattered most, Harris was again at the center of South Carolina's success -- and hit a milestone symbolic of just how integral she is to the program. A third-quarter pass to classmate Mikiah Herbert Harrigan in the lane resulted in a basket and the 616th assist of Harris' career, the most in program history. Harris has averaged 4.9 assists per game for her career and leads the SEC at 5.2 per game this season.

Another eight points and Harris will hit 1,200 for her career. She is already only the second player in program history to amass 1,000 points and 600 assists.

Also considered: Rennia Davis, Tennessee; Kathleen Doyle, Iowa; Vivian Gray, Oklahoma State; Ruthy Hebard, Oregon; Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon; Aari McDonald, Arizona; Satou Sabally, Oregon; Jill Townsend, Gonzaga

Previous winners: Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon (Jan. 20); Ja'Tavia Tapley, Arizona State (Jan. 13); Rhyne Howard, Kentucky (Jan. 6); Kaila Charles, Maryland (Dec. 30); Charli Collier, Texas (Dec. 23); Ashley Joens, Iowa State (Dec. 16); Megan Walker, UConn (Dec. 9); Dana Evans, Louisville (Dec. 2); Jaelyn Brown, Cal (Nov. 25); Aari McDonald, Arizona (Nov. 18); Sabrina Ionescu, Oregon (Nov. 11)