Perhaps it was just the road game, in the rivalry, or that Clemson coach Audra Smith had her team fired up to play old crony Dawn Staley, but the Tigers showed how to limit the Gamecocks on Thursday.
Pack in the zone. Force USC to shoot layups, because it misses a good portion of them. Attack on offense and get to the free-throw line.
USC still won because it has much more talent than Clemson. It will have much more talent than most of the non-conference teams it will play. The hope is that by the time SEC play begins on Jan. 2, the Gamecocks will have gotten their rotations set and the opening-minute rust out of the way.
Staley said she wasn’t frustrated because she knew eventually, the Gamecocks would get into their preferred plan – getting rebounds and running the break, and eventually finding bigs Elem Ibiam and Alaina Coates while the slashing Aleighsa Welch did her usual. That worked well, although Tiffany Mitchell was keeping USC in the game early while Coates was on the bench with foul trouble after missing two point-blank bunnies.
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It was a good road test for a team still learning to mold all of its parts together. Everybody wants to win big and look good doing it, and the Gamecocks did win big.
They looked good for most of the game. Doing it for all of a game is the next step.