David Cloninger

Cloninger: Gap between one and two much larger than a poll spot

South Carolina’s still a great team. UConn is the best.
South Carolina’s still a great team. UConn is the best. mwalsh@thestate.com

It’s one spot in the polls and a world of difference.

Connecticut, like it does to almost every team it plays, dominated South Carolina on Monday. As good as the Gamecocks are, blessed with three of the top players in the country, the Huskies have five, usually on the court at the same time.

The loss doesn’t diminish how good USC is and can be, and doesn’t affect the Gamecocks’ march toward a third straight SEC championship and No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The 18,000 fans that crammed into Colonial Life Arena can continue to cheer on a team that will make a deep run in March.

We’re all realizing now just how good UConn is, and how much every team in the country not named UConn has to work to get to that level. It may be an impossible task, but Dawn Staley knows the only way to get to that level is to keep playing, and keep playing the Huskies. The two will play again next season, and the next season and probably in seasons after that – and could meet in the NCAA tournament(s).

Perhaps the next time, there will be an identifiable weakness in UConn’s game. The Huskies were just too good Monday.

Any team in America, an opposing coach can scout and watch film and plot and find something to exploit, some area to attack and seize momentum. With UConn, the Gamecocks found out what everybody does – the only line on the scouting report is, "Hope they have a bad day."

They have to miss shots. They have to get in foul trouble. Your team has to hit most of its shots and eliminate any foolish mistakes. It’s a tough way to prepare but it’s the only way.

The Gamecocks didn’t do what they normally do and UConn’s first run was too much to overcome. They needed to be patient and take a high-percentage shot; they were too patient, couldn’t get the ball inside and had to fire desperation jumpers before the shot clock went off. That led to re-adjusting and being very strong driving toward the hole, but not finishing and not being rewarded with whistles.

(For those of you complaining about the non-calls, I agree, but it was consistent on each end. As for not getting calls against UConn, it’s what I call the Tim Duncan Rule. That dude walked on water his senior year, playing the whole season without fouling.)

A’ja Wilson being injured and Alaina Coates being shut down took away USC’s best source of offense and the Huskies’ scorers knew what to do. Not much USC could have done better against Breanna Stewart – like her team, it’s just too much to handle.

Geno Auriemma pointed out that USC is further along in its mission to become a dominant program than where he was, when he first started to challenge Tennessee’s supremacy in 1991. Staley knows that eventually, she’s going to have a team like UConn’s. The waiting may be excruciating, but she’s no stranger to it – she had to wait four years before her project at USC really bore fruit.

Maybe USC and UConn meet in April. As Staley said, there’s a lot of basketball still to play.

Maybe next time will be the Huskies’ bad day.

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