A’ja Wilson and every other player on South Carolina women’s basketball team is experiencing something new as a Gamecock — back-to-back losses.
With Monday’s 67-53 loss to Mississippi State on the road, combined with the 83-58 defeat to UConn last Thursday, USC has its first losing streak since Feb. 10-14, 2013.
Granted, as far as losing streaks go, it doesn’t get much tougher than playing the nation’s top two teams in a row. And with a matchup this Thursday against 14-9 Alabama, it’s unlikely that this streak will reach three games.
But Dawn Staley has stressed that the defending national champs come into each game expecting to be competitive, and teams like UConn and MSU will be the ones standing in South Carolina’s way as it tries to find its way back to the Final Four. And the good news for USC fans is that there were long stretches of both games in which the Gamecocks played step-for-step, and sometimes even better, than their higher-ranked opponents.
Unfortunately for Staley’s team, there are still some weak spots in their game, areas the Huskies and Bulldogs exploited and which need to be addressed.
South Carolina has struggled, at least comparatively, in the second quarter all year — it has been the Gamecocks’ worst offensive 10 minutes on average. Their lowest point total in a quarter for both the season and in SEC play have come in the second quarter (St. John’s and Texas A&M, respectively).
But against Connecticut and Mississippi State, the second quarter was especially brutal. UConn outscored USC 29-8, and MSU rallied from a 10-point deficit thanks to a 19-8 scoring margin. Against the Huskies, the second stanza turned a somewhat competitive game into a blowout. Against the Bulldogs, it turned what could have been a runaway win into a tight contest.
Some of that is because “basketball is a game of runs,” as A’ja Wilson said after Monday’s defeat. But with a young team, Staley also has said in the past that consistency and focus are issues she is continuing to work on with her players.
In both cases, South Carolina was able to reset at halftime and come out in the third quarter with the necessary energy. But as Staley acknowledged after UConn, “once you have those lapses, it’s hard to overcome.”
The supporting cast
It’s a widely acknowledged fact that Wilson is one of, if not the best player in the country. But her two main co-stars so far this season, Alexis Jennings and Tyasha Harris, largely have receded from the spotlight over the past two games.
Against UConn, Harris had more turnovers than assists for just the third time this season, while Jennings shot 3-for-7 on field goals. Against Mississippi State, Jennings was 0-for-3 from the field and had four turnovers, while the player she was guarding, Teaira McCowan, grabbed 20 rebounds. Harris fouled out for the second time this season while playing just 26 minutes.
On Monday, Staley said Harris’s foul trouble, in particular, was crucial to the outcome of the game — when she was on the floor, the Gamecocks did a much better job handling the intense pressure MSU threw at them. Without her, they fell apart.
“Ty’s gotta make better decisions in the the type of fouls she’s committing,” Staley said. “You can’t foul a jump shooter 19 feet from the basket. She’s just gotta be more disciplined. She understands that we need her out there on the floor.”