South Carolina knew offense sells tickets. Attendance at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday was 6,036, most of which were wearing garnet and black.
But defense wins championships – which is what Duke felt like it won by upsetting the No. 3 Gamecocks 74-63.
“We were undisciplined. That’s what it’s called,” USC coach Dawn Staley said. “We knew coming into this season that we would take a hit defensively. And sometimes when you’re winning, and you’re beating top-ranked teams, you can’t give that lesson to your players because they just think, ‘Hey, we’re winning! We’re doing it the right way.’ ”
The Gamecocks were doing it the right way in the first five minutes. They were getting the ball to posts Alaina Coates and A’ja Wilson and Duke couldn’t crack USC’s defense. With an 11-point advantage, Staley switched it up during the first timeout.
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That’s when it changed.
A 27-6 run stretching into the second quarter pushed the Blue Devils (9-1) ahead to stay, with USC (6-1) never able to get back into it. The Gamecocks, having knocked off three top-15 teams in their first six games – all on the road – never got that key stop or basket to get closer than five points.
“I subbed. I did something that I don’t normally do, so I’m going to take the hit on this,” Staley said. “I went against my normal substitution pattern, because I’m trying to just grow our bench a little bit. And that was costly, because they did go on a run at that particular time and they got momentum. And we could never get it back.”
Duke shot 50 percent for the game. After being down 16-5, it scored the next 11 points. The Devils shut off the lane and chased the Gamecocks’ shooters, and nobody could get a set shot.
Rebecca Greenwell scored 29 points and Oderah Chidom had 15, Chidom constantly worming past USC’s posts for tap-ins. The Gamecocks, used to their height intimidating opponents, blocked three shots, but had many more hit nothing but net.
Duke also scored 28 points off 19 USC turnovers.
Duke switched and passed and shot and rebounded, and once the Devils began hitting, they kept hitting. The Blue Devils did nothing USC hasn’t seen – they played zone, and collapsed on Coates and Wilson on every interior pass – and the Gamecocks tried in vain to shoot over it.
Kaela Davis hit a running one-hander to make it a five-point game with just over three minutes to go, but Greenwell answered with a runner with three seconds on the shot clock as USC stood flat-footed in the lane. Another USC turnover – and a technical foul for six players on the floor after Bianca Cuevas-Moore hit a 3-pointer – cemented it.
Staley knew defense was going to be a concern this year and Sunday was the reckoning. USC has a long layoff before its next game, but a lot to occupy its mind.
“This is a good learning lesson for us,” said Wilson, who led USC with 18 points. “I’m not concerned about this team. I think we have a great team.”
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