The defense isn’t fixed.
But there were enough small doses of the ongoing repair, and an accepted challenge to shoot over Minnesota’s zone, to get No. 6 South Carolina back in the win column.
The Gamecocks hammered the Golden Gophers 98-58 Sunday on the back of a Dawn Staley-era record 16 3-pointers. The USC coach complemented the outburst with a switch of the starting lineup to find more defense, installing freshman Tyasha Harris at point guard and sophomore Doniyah Cliney ahead of Kaela Davis, and it worked.
Now to keep it working, and do it for the game’s duration, not just the first five minutes.
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“The energy was good, the execution wasn’t as good,” Staley said. “But our players saw they can make an impact.”
USC (7-1) had everything clicking after the opening tip. The Gophers (7-4) couldn’t hold onto the ball and when they did, a possession became one of USC’s four blocked shots or four Minnesota airballs in the first five minutes. The Gamecocks spurted to a 15-0 lead and the rout was pre-determined.
The rout still happened, but just as in the last game at Duke, the first substitution had the effect of flipping the defensive switch to “off.” Minnesota immediately cut into the lead, and while it never got closer than nine, it got closer.
“Obviously, after last Sunday, we definitely focused on defense a lot,” Davis said, referring to the loss at Duke. “That’s obviously a work in progress. It’s keeping it consistent through substitutions.”
It’s a young team, with four freshmen and two transfers, and Staley again reminded everyone it’s a building under construction. The bright side was playing lockdown defense, even in small doses, can be more than enough considering USC’s wealth of scorers, all who did what they can do on Sunday.
Davis responded to being taken out of the starting lineup by scorching six 3-pointers among her game-high 22 points. Harris and Allisha Gray combined for seven more from long range and the team finished just one short of tying a program record for 3s in a game.
“When we’re knocking them down at the rate we’re knocking them down, we’re in a groove, so we’re going to take them,” Staley said. “But we got players who can hit those shots that haven’t hit those shots in prior games. We all needed that kind of game to see the ball go in from deep.”
The Gophers were content to zone-defend A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates and let USC’s shooters get clean looks. The Gamecocks lifted 33 3-pointers and hit 16.
USC wound up with four in double figures, and had 29 assists. A healthy crowd was on hand to start a three-game homestand. There was a lot to like.
But there’s much still to be done.
“I saw us move in the right direction,” Staley said.
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