Dawn Staley’s team remains at the top of the Women’s College Basketball polls this week. It is a spot they have for 11 consecutive weeks. After losing in overtime at Missouri to open SEC play, they have won their last five conference games by an average of 13 points. The Gamecocks’ depth and defense has set them apart from the rest of the country. They are also as battle-tested as any team in the nation, with an 8-0 record against ranked opponents. Despite all that they’ve accomplished this season, this team still has room to improve. That is a scary proposition for the rest of SEC and beyond.
South Carolina Gamecocks Depth and Defense Leads to Success
South Carolina has ten players that average between 10 and 30 minutes per game. They have the depth to withstand both in-game foul trouble, and any injuries that occur. This latter of those has already been proven when they won three in a row while starting point guard Destanni Henderson was hurt. Two of those wins were versus top-15 opponents. They have also had multiple bench players miss time due to health and safety protocols. This team always has someone step up, and each player understands and embraces their role. Victaria Saxton and Brea Beal have taken on the tough defensive assignments. Destiny Littleton comes off the bench to spread the floor with her shooting. Latecia Amihere has stepped up to run the point when Henderson was out. The 6’4″ forward showed just how versatile she can be leading the offense when needed. Kamilla Cardoso has been steadily improving and got off to a hot start in SEC play with back-to-back double-figure scoring outings.
This team thrives on the defensive end. Saxton and Beal are both elite defenders and relish the challenge of guarding the opponent’s best players. Saxton’s versatility, effort, and effectiveness should garner her some Defensive Player of the Year recognition. As a team, South Carolina leads the nation in blocks, with one and half more per game than the next team. They are top five in opponent’s field goal percentage and lead the nation in rebounds as well. Staley’s team has only allowed one opponent to reach 70 points. Four different players average a steal per contest. If you get past the perimeter pressure, you have the task of scoring over Aliyah Boston, Saxton, and Cardoso in the paint.
Best in the Land
Speaking of Boston, she has all but put to bed the National Player of the Year conversation. She has been spectacular as of late, with 11 straight double-doubles. The offseason work on her build has paid off and she is playing her best basketball as a junior. Despite all the attention opponents show her, she is still dominant in the paint. Her footwork and post moves bring back memories of watching Kevin Mchale or Tim Duncan going to work. She has also extended her range, hitting both mid-range jumpers and three-pointers this season. Every layer she adds to her game just continues to make her more and more effective and efficient. Boston is clearly the nation’s best player, and she seems to still be getting better.
Room to Improve
While the Gamecocks depth and defense has carried them this far, they have things to clean up on offense before March. South Carolina doesn’t play this week, so they have a quasi-bye week to work out the kinks. The droughts on offense have been a little too prevalent this season, even though it hasn’t resulted in losses. Getting Zia Cooke back to her best would cure some of what ails this squad, but not everything. The junior guard has struggled with her shot for almost two months. She is far too talented to play the way she has. She regained her form temporarily after the loss to Missouri, scoring 18 ppg over the next three contests. However, she is just 4-23 in the last two games.
Overall, this team has had turnover issues when they have struggled to score. Fifteen turnovers a game is far too many for a program with National Title aspirations. The Gamecocks have a quick break to work on breaking themselves of some of these sloppy habits. They need to run crisper offense and make their passes and cuts with more purpose. While their record hasn’t suffered due to these mistakes, that’s not a chance they can afford to take come tournament time. Things have to get cleaned up if they want to cut down the nets in March.
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