Before tonight, Dawn Staley's Lady Gamecocks had obliterated a slate of over-matched opponents en route to a 9-0 record and a top-ten ranking, their highest in a decade. That changed tonight, when USC took on the fourteenth-ranked UNC Lady Tarheels in the Carolinas Challenge in Myrtle Beach. The Lady Gamecocks lost an exciting game to UNC, 74-66. USC jumped out to an early lead at the beginning of the first half, but the Lady Tarheels roared out to a double-digit lead by halftime. Staley's squad fought hard in the second half and managed to bring the game to within a score a few times, but UNC always weathered the storm and was able to put the game away in the closing minutes.
One difference in the game was three-point shooting. Aleighsa Welch scored a career-high 23 points for USC, displaying nice touch when she got the ball in the post and some nifty moves to attack the basket when she got the ball further out. However, USC couldn't hit anything from outside, missing the vast majority of the opportunities it had from downtown, and we did get some good open looks. The Lady Tarheels beat us in this aspect of the game, connecting on many of their threes.
Another difference was UNC's Xylina McDaniel. McDaniel is a Columbia product and the daughter of former NBA star Xavier McDaniel. UNC center Stephanie Mavunga, with her 20 points and 12 rebounds (many off the offensive glass), was the Lady Tarheels' statistical leader. However, considering how hard Staley fought to have McDaniel stay home and play for USC, it was hard to ignore the impact of McDaniel's 14 points. McDaniel displayed a nice outside shooting touch, which the Lady Gamecocks could have really used tonight.
The loss brings South Carolina to 9-1 on the season. The Lady Gamecocks return to Colonial Life Arena on Friday to host Winthrop. This one stings, but UNC is a good team, and if we can bounce back before conference play begins, this can still be a very special season for the team.