When: Monday, February 13th
Tipoff: 9 p.m. EST
Where: Harry A. Gampel Pavillion - Storrs, Conn.
How to watch: ESPN 2
How to listen: 107.5 The Game
Here we go again.
It’s hard to avoid the cliches with this match up, as it’s now three years in a row South Carolina and Connecticut have faced each other on big Monday — however this year South Carolina feels like a bigger underdog then ever.
Connecticut in on the precipice of winning their 100th game in a row — yet another absurd accomplishment in the vast cabinet of Geno Auriemma. ESPN is going wall-to-wall with their coverage of the potential accomplishment, and South Carolina is going to be a footnote in all of it.
The previous two years this was a one versus two matchup — South Carolina No. 1 in 2015 and UConn last season. There was reasonable hype around both games for similar reasons. In 2015 South Carolina went to UConn looking to officially dethrone the Goliath that has for so long reigned dominance over women’s college basketball — yet it ended in a 25-point loss for the Gamecocks.
Last season UConn came to Columbia with revenge on the mind of the Gamecocks looking to take out the national champions. That game ended in a 12 point loss for South Carolina, but at least fans left that game feeling slightly more hopeful about the future.
However this season has taken a slight downturn for South Carolina. The Gamecocks have already lost two games — the most recent being a stunner to unranked Tennessee — which doesn’t help to the suffocating underdog role they’ll be taking on tonight. Yes, UConn has been taken to the wire by Florida State, Notre Dame, Maryland and Baylor — but they’re still undefeated regardless.
So as everything today will be about Connecticut and what they could accomplish tonight, don’t forget there’s another really good basketball team trying to stop it from happening.
1) South Carolina is a top-20 offensive team in the country, which is all well and fine until you play Connecticut. A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates — both post players — make up 40 percent of the teams per game scoring averages. And while there’s no Brianna Stewart to stifle Coates this season, South Carolina can’t beat UConn drizzling twos.
Connecticut shoots 40 percent from beyond the arch this season, with Katie Lou Samuelson and Kia Nurse combining for 5.3 three’s a game at a near 43 percent clip. If South Carolina wants a shot tonight they’ll have to at the very least keep up with UConn on the shooting front.
Kaela Davis, Allisha Davis and Bia Cuevas-Moore are going to have to step up their offensive games tonight for any hope of an upset. If South Carolina’s backcourt doesn’t shoot a decent clip from three to match the Huskies, they’ll be in a hole from the get go.
2) South Carolina has the advantage in the front court in regards to size and skill. Six-foot-five Natalie Wilson will come off the bench for UConn to give them some size in the post, but as far as the starters go the tallest body UConn has on the floor is Samuelson at six-foot-three — a guard who won’t spend too much time in the post.
This makes it imperative South Carolina uses these advantages to control the boards — specifically when the Gamecocks have the ball. The duo average nearly six offensive boards a game, but they’ll need much more than that to limit the amount of possessions UConn gets on offense.
The same goes on the other end. Connecticut can’t add second chance points on top of whatever else they’ll score, so protecting your own glass will be another top priority. Simply put the Gamecocks — with their advantages in the front court — can’t afford to give up any sort of margin to Connecticut in the rebounding department.
3) As cliche goes, this game will come down to the fourth quarter. In those four top ten games mentioned earlier — Maryland, Baylor, Florida State, and Notre Dame — UConn’s actually been outscored by a point. Those four teams have combined for 87 points to UConn’s 86, and while that doesn’t seem overly significant it is a chink in the seemingly unpenetrable armor Connecticut seems to have.
Florida State and Maryland both outscored UConn in the fourth quarter, with Maryland in a big way by a 28-19 count. Yes, in all of these cases Connecticut was already up big in all these games — but it goes to show they are capable of gassing out in fourth quarters.
If South Carolina plays a flawless game — and they’ll need to be if they want the slightest shot at UConn — the Gamecocks could make a charge near the end of the game. That of course is if they play a flawless game, the chances of which could be slim to none.