In Sunday's Southeastern Conference opener against LSU, USC coach Dawn Staley saw a trend from which she hopes her team quickly emerges.
The Gamecocks have played five ranked teams this season and, in most of the games, fell into a big hole early. The script was nearly the same in the 70-58 victory by the 11th-ranked Tigers to push USC's streak to seven consecutive losses in SEC openers.
"I don't know why we always have to play from behind," Staley said. "We don't get off to quick starts. Maybe we need to open up the floor up a little bit and let them get up and go."
A 10-minute stretch during the first half gave the Tigers their 13th consecutive victory in the series and eighth victory in a row in SEC openers.
LSU (12-1, 1-0) went on a 32-6 run during which the Gamecocks made 3 of 13 shots and turned the ball over six times. Allison Hightower scored nine of her game-high 23 points during the run and Latear Eason connected on three 3-pointers and a jumper for all 11 of her first-half points.
It didn't help the Gamecocks that leading scorer Valarie Nainima picked up her third foul on the play that gave the Tigers their biggest lead at 38-15 with 4:42 remaining in the half.
Eason connected on a 3-pointer and Nainima pushed her way through a screen to pick up the foul. LaSondra Barrett added the two free throws and Staley felt it was not a good play by the junior guard.
"That's not smart," Staley said. "I thought she was smart enough to play with two fouls but you have to give up a basket so you have the freedom to play in the second half."
South Carolina battled back, using a 13-4 spurt to go into the locker room trailing 42-28.
The Gamecocks (7-6, 0-1) trimmed the deficit to nine twice in the second half, but could get no closer. Nainima picked up her fourth foul with 16 minutes remaining. She was South Carolina's leading scorer with 13 points, but it was six points below her average.
LSU coach Van Chancellor, who notched his 500th career win in the Tigers' previous game, was never comfortable even though he watched his team jump to the big first-half lead. He said during the postgame media session he felt like he had gone through a heavyweight fight.
"One of the hardest things for me in coaching is to coach with a big lead," Chancellor said. "Give South Carolina credit. They did a great job of coming back, they began to play good, but I also thought our team played really well today. The first 16 minutes of the game was the best basketball we played all year."
USC freshmen center Kelsey Bone just missed a double-double with 9 points and 12 rebounds. She thought the early deficit is something South Carolina needs to improve on to compete in the SEC.
"It takes us a minute to understand what we're really up against," Bone said. "Then the game plan starts to kick in. We've got to get adjusted to playing against these types of teams. The first 10 minutes of these games are hurting us right now. Once we get over that hurdle, we'll be OK."
Source: The State