During its first-round upset of host Colorado on Saturday night, 12th-seeded Kansas had a lot of players step up.
There was one in particular, though, that caught the attention of South Carolina.
As the 17th-ranked and fourth-seeded Gamecocks (25-7) prepare to take on Kansas in Monday’s second round of the women’s NCAA tournament at the Coors Events Center, all eyes will be on Jayhawks point guard Angel Goodrich.
“I think she’s the engine that makes them go,” USC coach Dawn Staley said, “so we’re going to start with her and try to limit the amount of production that she creates, not only for herself, but for her teammates.
“We both have pretty good point guards, and I think whoever wins that point guard matchup will probably win the game.”
South Carolina and Kansas (19-13) both are looking for a second consecutive trip to the Sweet 16, and USC point guard Ieasia Walker is eager to test her skills.
“I love a challenge,” Walker said. “(Goodrich) is probably one of the better point guards I’ve played this year. I’m just going to try to make her play both sides of the ball. She’s got to play offense and defense tomorrow. It’s going to be a great game.”
Goodrich averages 14.2 points and 7 assists per game. She had 14 points and eight assists against Colorado and seemed to have her way with a normally stingy Colorado defense.
Walker has been down this road before. The SEC defensive player of the year has been asked to shut down opposing point guards all season — with great success.
The SEC is filled with great point guards, including Texas A&M’s Adrienne Pratcher, Tennessee’s Ariel Massengale, Vanderbilt’s Jasmine Lister and Kentucky’s Jennifer O’Neill. Walker said this will be just as tough of a challenge, if not more.
“We’re going to exhaust her,” said Walker, who has averaged 9.7 points and 3.3 assists this season. “We want to try to cut the head, which is Goodrich. Everything is run through her, and I don’t think they really have a backup that’s as efficient as she is in running the offense.
“For me, it’s going to be my job to get her off her game and not as efficient as she was (against Colorado).”
Freshman Khadijah Sessions also will be important. When Walker doesn’t run the point, Sessions does.
“I do think Khadijah can be somewhat of an X-factor for us, but she has to focus in,” Staley said. “Sometimes, she plays a little bit too fast, because she wants to contribute, she wants to have an impact on the game. When she’s able to let the game come to here, she’s much more effective.”
USC also is hoping to match up against the Jayhawks’ inside. Kansas has a size advantage in the paint, with Chelsea Gardner and Carolyn Davis — both 6-foot-3 forwards — among its top threats.
While USC gives up some size, it has plenty of athleticism in the paint. Senior Ashley Bruner has posted three consecutive double-doubles, while Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam will be counted on to lend support.
Staley said the Gamecocks need to continue to excel on the two things they’ve done well year: defense and rebounding. Do that, and the Gamecocks again will be in the Sweet 16.
“We’ve got to get back there,” Walker said. “I don’t think a lot of people thought we were going to do as good as we did last year, so we definitely have to keep pushing and keep getting better.”
WHO: No. 17 South Carolina (25-7) vs. Kansas (19-13)
WHEN: 9:30 pm Monday
WHERE: Coors Event Center, Boulder, Colorado
RADIO: WISW-AM 1320
SERIES: First meeting
COACHES: Dawn Staley (92-65 in five seasons at USC, 264-145 in 13 seasons); Bonnie Hendrickson (157134 in nine seasons at Kansas, 315-196 in 16 seasons)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Both South Carolina and Kansas are looking to return to the Sweet 16 for a second straight season. The Gamecocks eliminated South Dakota State by 22 points in the opening round while the 12th-seeded Jayhawks knocked off host and No. 5 seed Colorado, 67-52. The winner advances to the Norfolk Regional. ... Senior Ashley Bruner has recorded double-doubles in each of the three USC postseason games. She had 15 points and 11 rebounds in the opening-round win. She is averaging 13.4 points and 9.8 rebounds the past five games. ... In the three postseason games, the Gamecocks have averaged 7.3 points more than during the regular season. ... A USC win would be their 26th, surpassing last year’s total and becoming the most since the 1979-80 team won 30 games. ... The Jayhawks had five players score in double figures in the win against Colorado. ... Kansas is 12-12 all-time in the Big Dance.