Football may still be top of mind for many fans, and understandably so as a big game against Missouri looms, but the South Carolina Gamecocks men’s and women’s basketball squads got their respective seasons started last night — and both came away with wins.
No. 1 South Carolina 66, No. 5 N.C. State 55
In the clear highlight of the night, Dawn Staley’s crew traveled to Raleigh to complete the other half of a home-and-home, tipping things off with a titanic clash of top-5 teams that were both NCAA Tournament participants last year. The Wolfpack got the Gamecocks in Columbia last year, coming away with a fairly shocking upset, but South Carolina made sure there were no such surprises this time around. The takeaways:
- It should be no surprise with the No. 1 recruiting class in the fold, along with the addition of last season’s ACC Co-Defensive Player of the Year in Syracuse transfer Kamilla Cardoso, but this is a deeper and more versatile roster than last year’s.
- Speaking of Cardoso, she was the newcomer who logged the most minutes off the bench (16), grabbing four rebounds, a block, and adding two points. For the most part, though, Staley stuck to the Gamecocks’ rotation we saw most frequently last season. Curious to see if that will change, now that Game No. 1 is in the books and South Carolina will have opportunities to experiment against lesser opponents in the coming weeks.
- Laeticia Amihere continues to impress. She’s an immediate spark off the bench and got some pretty good run last night, going for 23 minutes and scoring nine points while collecting five rebounds and two steals. Her defensive effort, especially, was on point.
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, defense in general was the name of the game for South Carolina in this one. The Gamecocks effectively neutralized State’s star big, Elissa Cunane, and the Wolfpack could just never really get it going offensively.
- In fairness, though, South Carolina’s star big, Aliyah Boston, was quiet as well, putting up just eight points. That the Gamecocks still came away with a top-5 win on the road without getting much from their biggest weapon is impressive, to say the least. Of course, Boston also made it up for her lack of offensive output in other ways, contributing six rebounds and five blocks.
- The guard combo of Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson picked up from where they left off last year, scoring 31 combined points to power the offense. Cooke still has a tendency to play some hero ball, and twice lost awareness of the shot clock last night, but she’s such a dynamic player it’s hard to be too critical.
South Carolina 78, USC Upstate 60
While the men didn’t grab headlines in a marquee matchup, they still came away with a victory — and much like the women, did so how their coach likes to get it done. The takeaways:
- Looots of newcomers on this roster, both in terms of freshmen and transfers, and a new-look starting lineup as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, it was veterans Jermaine Couisnard and Wildens Leveque who led the Gamecocks in this one, with both scoring 14 points and Couisnard adding seven assists and Leveque snagging eight rebounds.
- Things got off to a shaky start, as the Spartans were hot out of the gates, and fans could be forgiven for worrying that yet another embarrassing OOC loss was coming down the pike. Fortunately, the Gamecocks gathered themselves and smartly decided to lean on their size advantage, cranking up the defensive pressure and bullying Upstate in the paint with a 52-34 rebounding margin and 42-20 advantage in points in the paint. Vintage Frank Martin, that.
- Of the newcomers, they each shone in respective ways. LSU transfer Josh Gray, a bully in the lane, had eight points and eight rebounds; Ta’Quan Woodley led the freshmen with an efficient eight points and five rebounds in 13 minutes; North Texas transfer James Reese V put up nine points; and Washington transfer guard Erik Stevenson showed a quick trigger and willingness to let it rip from the perimeter. He was 3-of-13 from the field (1 of 7 from 3-point land) for nine points, but appeared to have the type of shooter’s confidence we haven’t seen on this team in a while. He’s one I’ll be keeping an eye on.
For anyone who caught these games, what did y’all think? Any newcomers you’re particularly excited about?