South Carolina women’s basketball cleansed its palate on Thursday night, washing out memories of its first loss of the year against Notre Dame with images of complete and total domination over Western Carolina, a 101-43 drubbing.
The numbers from the Western Carolina win are positively gaudy: It was South Carolina’s biggest margin of victory since December 2014. The 66 points in the paint were the Gamecocks’ most since November 2013. The 58.2 percent shooting mark was the best of the season so far. Even without injured redshirt senior Lindsey Spann, five players scored in double figures.
In short, it was an absolute thrashing. Despite the lopsided nature of the contest, it still can tell us certain things, some good and some bad, about the current state of the Gamecocks.
Dawn Staley hits 400 career coaching wins
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Maybe not so much of a lesson, but still a big career milestone for head coach Dawn Staley, who needed just over 17 seasons to reach the 400-win plateau.
That will almost certainly not be the last milestone Staley hits this season. With three more wins, she will tie Nancy Wilson for the program record in victories at 231, a mark Wilson took 13 seasons to accomplish. Staley is at the beginning of her 10th year at South Carolina.
Lindsey Spann’s injury is not catastrophic, but it fundamentally changes South Carolina’s offense
Less than an hour before tipoff Thursday, the Gamecocks announced that redshirt senior guard Lindsey Spann would miss the game with a sprained knee. Afterward, Staley said Spann is “probably out” for USC’s game against No. 14 Duke on Sunday.
If Vegas were giving odds on Sunday’s game, that news would probably swing the line dramatically. Spann is South Carolina’s second-leading scorer and top 3-point threat, and her deadly accuracy from the perimeter has forced opposing defenses to spread the floor, leaving room for forwards A’ja Wilson and Alexis Jennings to operate.
Against Western Carolina, her absence wasn’t really a big deal. Wilson, Jennings and the rest of South Carolina’s bigger, stronger players simply overwhelmed the Catamounts, leading to the record number of points in the paint mentioned above, as well as 25 free throw attempts. But at the same time, the Gamecocks shot a season-low 25 percent from 3.
Duke’s talent level is several steps above WCU, and Notre Dame has already proven that a highly-skilled team can allow Wilson to put up big numbers and still win if South Carolina struggles on the perimeter. Even if USC can learn and adjust from that previous loss, expect another post-heavy performance on offense Sunday.
LaDazhia Williams shows a spark, while Bianca Jackson holds her own in her first start
The loss of Spann pushed freshman guard Bianca Jackson into the starting lineup for the first time in her career against Western Carolina, and while she didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet, she did enough to likely earn herself another starting nod against Duke. She scored seven points, grabbed four rebounds, dished three assists and, most importantly, only turned it over once while collecting a steal and a block.
Until Spann, injured senior Bianca Cuevas-Moore and transfer Te’a Cooper can return to the court, Dawn Staley needs role players to step onto the court and just not mess things up while players like Wilson and Jennings do their thing. Jackson is filling that role quite capably.
Her fellow freshman, forward LaDazhia Williams, has had a harder time transitioning to the college game. Through seven games, she had played just 31 minutes and was 1-for-10 from the field, 2-for-8 from the free throw line and had more fouls (6) and as many turnovers (4) as she had points (4).
That changed Thursday, as Williams nearly double-doubled with 11 points, eight rebounds, one steal and no turnovers. She hit two 3-pointers and was 4-for-5 on field goals in an efficient performance that Staley praised. Granted, it was against a low-level opponent, but it was more than she’s done against similar foes like Alabama State and Wofford. It will be interesting to see if she can sustain that success and if it will lead to Staley trusting her more as a backup in big games.
A few different Gamecocks have an outside chance at a triple-double this year
While South Carolina’s bigs were doing whatever they wanted in the lane and garnering most of the attention Thursday night, sophomore guard Tyasha Harris posted her first career double-double, collecting 10 points, 10 assists and six steals against Western Carolina in just 25 minutes. She didn’t even play in the fourth quarter.
Those marks set new career highs for Harris in assists and steals, and it was also, somewhat surprisingly, the closest any Gamecock has come this year to a triple-double.
Could Harris actually get there this season? I’d say the chances are slim, but not nonexistent. Only one player in South Carolina history has had 10 or more steals in a game, but given the right opponent, with the current lack of depth South Carolina has in the backcourt, Harris has good enough hands to make things happen. College of Charleston seems like the best bet left on the schedule. Michigan State, the only Power 5 opponent the Cougars have faced this season, had 15 steals in its game.
But the South Carolina player with the best, albeit still small, chance of a triple-double is Wilson, who remains the nation’s best shot-blocker but can also dish some as well. Behind those two, junior guard Doniyah Cliney does a little bit of everything well. but she has yet to display the explosiveness needed for that one special game.