Playing two miles from where Dawn Staley is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, South Carolina knew better than to let her down.
So Staley sat back and watched her No. 3 Gamecocks fight through foul trouble to blister No. 4 Louisville 83-59 Sunday in their final game of the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge.
“We basically just kept playing our game,” said junior Allisha Gray, who again sparkled with 17 points. “After a while, our defense picked up and it showed in the results.”
With trouble adjusting to the Cardinals’ speed and quick passing, USC let Kaela Davis do the work, the junior guard scoring the first seven points. She was matched by Louisville’s Asia Durr, who had 10 with 5:36 left in the period.
Staley used the first timeout to stress defense, which has been a sore spot throughout the Gamecocks’ first five games, and USC responded. Durr was held scoreless until midway through the third quarter, as the Gamecocks built a 20-point lead. She finished with 13.
“We knew a lot goes through her, and she’s a big part of what they do and the flow of how they want to play,” Staley said. “We played off everybody else and tried to deny her the ball. We did throw a little box-in-one at her, we ran a little deny her the ball and gap defending everyone else.”
Forced to find other ways to score, Louisville couldn’t match USC’s arsenal. Freed of foul trouble, Gray and Davis anchored a 27-15 third-quarter bonanza that cemented the game.
Alaina Coates had another double-double and added four steals to it. Mikiah Herbert Harrigan scored 11 points in 17 minutes. Doniyah Cliney spelled the guards during the first half, playing 20 minutes with four rebounds.
USC dominated the second half, with one national aficionado calling the Gamecocks the country’s No. 1 team and another settling for a label as a no-doubt Final Four squad. Staley accepted the kudos, but especially with a trip to Texas and then Duke this week, tapped the brakes.
“Defensively, I don’t think we’re where we need to be,” she said. “We’re getting by with kind of patching it together. We got to get a little bit more disciplined defensively.”
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