On Thursday night, USC continued that dominance, claiming its ninth consecutive win in the series, 69-57. But the mood afterward for the Gamecocks (2-0) was hardly celebratory, as sloppy play and poor shooting made it the closest game in that nine-year run.
Clemson (2-1) and new coach Amanda Butler entered the game planning to make things ugly, and they succeeded with a stifling zone defense that South Carolina struggled to figure out. While Staley tried to make adjustments to break the zone, the Gamecocks time and time again threw the ball into traffic where it was easily picked off.
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They were forcing us to one side, and we didnt utilize our ball fakes or our snake in the middle, or having someone put in the middle, said redshirt junior guard Tea Cooper, who led the team with 15 points. We just had to recognize it, and we didnt.
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But on the other side of the ball, the Tigers had problems of their own taking advantage of USCs struggles — Clemson forced 27 turnovers but scored just 20 points off them and turned it over 28 times on its own.
We would get a turnover, and wed come back down and cough it up, and obviously we cant exchange a turnover for a turnover. Thats one of the areas that were really gonna want to kick ourselves when we review the film, Butler said. And then, we came down on the other end and just missed some shots.
In one of the bright spots on the night for South Carolina, the Gamecocks tied a Staley-era record with 16 blocks, led by five from freshman Victaria Saxton. But Staley was loathe to claim many positives from the result, as South Carolina prepares to host No. 9 Maryland on Sunday.
No, no, Staley said when asked if it was good to play a competitive battle so early in the year. I thought our defense was decent … I just thought they disrupted us and we couldnt get in a flow, from an offensive standpoint. We got enough possessions, just when you throw the ball away 27 times, thats pretty uncharacteristic.
Two players with starting experience, junior guard Tyasha Harris and sophomore guard Bianca Jackson, led USC turnovers with six each, while also combining to shoot below 30 percent from the floor.
A lot of those (turnovers) came from our experienced players, and we have to do better in that instance, Staley said.
The low point for Carolina came in the third quarter — after Jackson sparked a 19-2 run in the second quarter with a buzzer-beating 3 to end the first, USC led 41-25 at the break and seemed poised to turn the game into another annual blowout. Harris had nine points and three assists, all in the second quarter, and seemed to be heating up.
But Clemson came out of halftime and reeled off a 14-3 run to close within three points. The Tigers charge was led by graduate student guard Simone Westbrook, a seventh-year player, who contributed 14 points on the night. Meanwhile, USC turned the ball over 10 times in the period.
Turnovers and our inability to execute offensively, Staley said of the main problems in that quarter. When you have that, you get disrupted, and you cant get into the flow of the game.
Clemson also outscored the Gamecocks 46-28 in the paint for the game, utilizing its posts size advantage for most of the night.
In the fourth quarter, however, USC redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings, playing in her first game of the year and limited in minutes by injury, contributed five of her eight points on the night on two timely buckets. The first snapped a nearly four-minute scoreless stretch, and the second was a tough and-1 layup where she converted the free throw to restore a double-digit lead with 2:25 to play.
With 1:51 left, Jackson buried a 3-pointer to further cement the lead and essentially guarantee a win for the 11,539 fans in attendance.
South Carolina will get its first ranked test of the season next, facing No. 9 Maryland at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. Before then, Staley made it clear her team will have a lot to clean up.
Our ball-screen defense, well see a lot of that. Maryland is going to get up and down the floor, so our transition defense and our ability to slow them down … and then taking care of the ball. Thats three things well certainly have to work on, Staley said.
Edit Slot to 247Sports Home Slot to South Carolina Gamecocks Newsletter Slot to South Carolina Links South Carolina will play host to Chattanooga tomorrow night with kickoff slated for 7:30 PM. The game will be televised by the SEC Network Alternate channel, and this article takes a look at what the Gamecocks must do well to ensure victory.
1. Start quickly in all three phases – The best case scenario in a game like this one is for South Carolina to start quickly and put Chattanooga away early. This would allow the Gamecocks to play more backups and to work on getting more players healthy for next weekend’s matchup with Clemson. The best way to accomplish this would be to start quickly in all three phases by executing at a high level and taking away any notion that an upset is on the table.
2. Capitalize on big play opportunities – South Carolina should have several chances for big plays tomorrow night, and they have to make sure they execute at a high level when those opportunities arise. Whether it is delivering the ball to the right spot or making the additional block needed to spring someone, the Gamecock offense needs to get it done.
3. Improve on tackling – South Carolina is coming off its worst tackling performance of the year last week against Florida, and they have to show significant improvement in that area tomorrow night. In particular, the linebackers and the safeties have to make more plays and show they can be a sure-tackling group. The defensive line also needs to rebound from a game where they failed to generate much pressure on the quarterback nor make enough tackles in the running game.
4. Force multiple turnovers – The Gamecock defense has not forced nearly enough turnovers this season, and that trend needs to be reversed starting tomorrow night. The more turnovers they can force, the better chance South Carolina has at running away with this contest early on.
5. Stay balanced – Offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon is coming into his own as a play caller and needs to stay on the right track tomorrow night. There is no question that the Gamecock offense is most difficult to stop when they are balanced and keeping the defense guessing on what may be coming next.
Final analysis – This is a game South Carolina should win and should win big. The Mocs have struggled to score points against the better teams they have faced this season and there is no reason to believe the Gamecocks cannot hold them down, even with the injuries they have on that side of the ball. I also think the Gamecock offense can have a big night if they execute at a high level.