New year, new focus.
South Carolina’s defense returned to form in a 93-45 bludgeoning of Alabama on Sunday, USC beginning the SEC season with another win and at least a temporary answer to a lingering question. Although the Gamecocks had the best victories of any conference team and remain the favorite to take home a fourth straight regular-season crown, could their defense resemble what was a big part of the first three?
At least for one game, it’s a resounding “yes.”
“It was something that coach really went after,” forward A’ja Wilson said. “Defense is a huge part of this team and that’s part of our system. It was a huge factor in what we did over the break.”
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The Crimson Tide (12-2, 0-1 SEC) came into the game with four players averaging double figures. USC (11-1, 1-0) held them to 28 combined points. The Gamecocks forced two shot-clock violations in the first 11 minutes and stole 10 balls with 12 blocks for the game.
Alabama was down 12-2 in a blink and sufficiently cowed by USC’s defense. And they still hadn’t accounted for the Gamecocks’ offense.
Once that entered the equation, the game became a boat race.
“They know what we’re coming in the game to do,” coach Dawn Staley said. “I do think when we’re able to score the way we want to score, it can be deflating. Sometimes you just can’t (combat that).”
Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson lived up their nickname (the continent of Alai-ja) by controlling the paint with 42 points and 20 rebounds. Kaela Davis had 16 and USC also received strong news in another key area.
Freshman Ty Harris started over junior Bianca Cuevas-Moore at point guard and logged seven points, six assists, one turnover, one steal and one block. Cuevas-Moore has been mercurial in her mission to take over the spot, and the position remains fluid.
Yet Harris’ performance definitely gave Staley something to think about.
“Right now, I think we’re going to try something a little bit different, try to get some bang off the bench with Bianca,” Staley said. “Give her an opportunity to not have so much pressure on her. Ty’s more of a pass-first point guard -- I think it just fits our style in the beginning of the game.”
Cuevas-Moore is a scorer and being on the court with four other scorers to start, Staley explained, sometimes takes away from what she does best. With Harris on the floor at first to direct the other four, Staley has a ready-made solution to replace offense when one of them has to sit down.
Cuevas-Moore is still a starter in terms of how many minutes she’ll play (she had 23 to Harris’ 25 on Sunday). Harris looks to be in the first-up spot for the moment, but Staley left it open-ended.
“But if Ty doesn’t get the job done, we got to keep moving on,” she said.
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