The run happened, as it was expected to. Sixth-ranked South Carolina outscored archrival Clemson 17-6 in a stretch to leap ahead, riding it to an 83-61 victory on Thursday.
The nagging question was, why did it take so long to happen?
“We need to play up-tempo on both sides of the ball. We’re not starting that way,” coach Dawn Staley said. “We have to figure out how to do that.”
Staley didn’t feel too bad. The Gamecocks (8-1) won the game, their seventh straight in the series, by far the longest rivalry winning streak the program has ever had. They won despite mostly not having freshman key contributor Ty Harris, who was shaken up late in the second quarter. The Tigers (8-2), like most opponents USC will face this year, had no answer for the “Ala-ja” duo of center Alaina Coates and forward A’ja Wilson (39 combined points).
Yet it remains a concern why USC, a team that whipped two Top-10 teams already this season, didn’t put away an outclassed team from the tip. That 17-6 run occurred in the third quarter. USC led 25-23 in the second when Clemson’s Alexis Carter missed a wide-open 3-pointer, and that yielded an 8-0 run that led into the next run.
The Tigers only had two players, each 6-foot-2, to challenge USC’s height and they combined for two points. Yet it was Clemson who ran fluid offensive sets, driving into the lane with sparse resistance, and then kicking out for open perimeter looks when USC collapsed on the drivers. And they only got three minutes from their second-leading scorer and top rebounder, Aliyah Collier, who tweaked a knee in her last game.
The Tigers tired late and began missing the shots that had fallen early, knocking their game percentage down to 34.4. The boxscore shows that USC dominated.
The replay, as it did in last year’s 26-point win at Clemson, proved far different.
“I think that’s just about us not being disciplined,” said Wilson, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. “We had to make adjustments on the fly and that’s something we really need to work on.”
The Gamecocks did do better in the second half, playing off Clemson and giving the Tigers some space so they wouldn’t get burned on the drives. It is a young team, freshmen and newcomers who sat out last year playing vital minutes, and the defense was always going to be a work in progress after losing three players who each started for three seasons.
Perhaps everyone would have liked to see a more convincing win, either for the rivalry aspect or that No. 9 UCLA visits on Sunday, but the Gamecocks won. Earlier games have also shown that USC is going to show up against a Top-10 opponent.
The Gamecocks continue to develop. Staley wants a quicker start on each side of the ball, which she said is fully in USC’s control. The key is getting the players to understand that.
“I wouldn’t say it’s playing down the level of competition,” said Coates, who moved into second place on the career chart with her 1,027th rebound. “I’d say it’s lack of readiness on our part. We need to be ready for anybody.”
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TAKING THE LEAD
South Carolina went ahead 4-3 in the all-sports season series with archrival Clemson on Thursday. The Gamecocks have not lost the all-sports series since 2005-06 (there were two ties in the span).
Men’s soccer (NCAA tournament)
Clemson, 2-1 (OT)