You could be forgiven if you, like me, were working away on Monday afternoon and either unaware or unable to get away long enough to watch the South Carolina women wrap up holiday tournament play in the Bahamas against No. 2 UConn.
But oh man, what a game to miss if you weren’t able to tune in. The top-ranked Gamecocks solidified their place at the peak of the sport with an emphatic 73-57 victory that featured a rally from a 13-point deficit and a dominant fourth quarter, earning a measure of revenge against the Huskies for last season’s defeat and making a statement.
Expectations for Dawn Staley’s team are always high in Columbia. But this squad really looks like something special, and it feels like last year’s agonizing loss in the Final Four has only made these Gamecocks more determined. A stat that may surprise you: This is USC’s first win in a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in five tries. This is a group on a mission.
As one might assume with having a No. 1 recruiting class now in the fold, this is a deep and balanced team. Aliyah Boston remains the centerpiece (22 points, 15 rebounds), but the guard duo of Destanni Henderson (15 points, including a couple key 3-pointers) and Zia Cooke (17 points) is helping to power the Gamecock attack in perhaps the truest example we’ve seen of the inside-outside game Staley prefers to play.
It’s the defense, though, that stole the show against UConn. South Carolina is typically at its best when it’s able to exert its will defensively against opponents, and the impressively stifling performance it put on the Huskies is a stand out. UConn had three starters reach double figures, including all-everything star Paige Bueckers (although on 8-of-19 shooting), but the Gamecocks just wore them down: The Huskies scored only 21 points in the second half, with the astonishing stat line of just three in the fourth quarter. USC also towered over UConn on the boards, collecting 42 rebounds to the Huskies’ 25, and harassed the Huskies with 11 steals.
Anyway, I know it’s Clemson week, and Thanksgiving week, and just a busy time of year more generally. But the South Carolina women appear to be working on something special, and it more than merits attention and discussion here. USC will welcome UConn to Colonial Life Arena on Jan. 27th for a rematch; we’ll see if these Gamecocks can keep it rolling.