Coming into South Carolina women’s basketball’s home game with No. 4 Baylor on Sunday night, most of the talk was about the Lady Bears’ All-American post players, Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox, who both stand above 6-foot-5.
In the first quarter, however, the No. 18 Gamecocks were burned not only in the paint but outside as well. USC’s own offense stumbled early, and Baylor cruised to a 94-69 drubbing to send Carolina to 4-4 on the season, tied for its worst start ever under Dawn Staley. All of those losses have come against teams currently ranked in the AP top 25.
In the first four minutes of play, the Lady Bears (7-0) made seven of 10 shots, with all but one coming from their guards and two going for 3. South Carolina, meanwhile, made just one of its first six attempts and called a timeout down 16-3.
“The game plan was to try to take away the most productive part of their makeup, and that was inside play and obviously we tried to do that, but they were hitting from the outside,” Staley said. “That first quarter really rocked us a little bit to the point of they stretched it out so much, we couldn’t get into the game, the flow of the game. “
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Coming into the contest, Baylor was attempting fewer than eight 3-pointers a game but was hitting them at a rate of 41.8 percent. For BU coach Kim Mulkey, her team’s early success beyond the arc wasn’t unexpected. It was a reminder to the rest of the country that the Lady Bears can be multifaceted.
“You better not forget about our perimeter game,” Mulkey said. “When the game started and (the guards) were challenged and they packed the paint, they didn’t hesitate. One or two trips down the floor, they were like, ‘You’re gonna leave us open, we’re going to continue to shoot it.’”
At the end of the first quarter, Baylor’s guards struck again to turn a 25-13 lead into a 32-13 one, thanks to a 3-pointer, USC offensive foul, driving layup and steal and score, all in the final minute.
“You can’t turn the ball over, you can’t give them easy possessions,” Staley said of the sequence. “You can’t do the things we did, obviously.”
Those 32 points are the most South Carolina has given up in an opening quarter since the NCAA switched to a four-quarter system in the 2015-2016 season.
In the second quarter, USC’s offense started to find some success, led by eight points from redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper. But the game plan entering the contest had been to push the ball in transition, and as Baylor continued to make shot after shot, turning defense into quick offense wasn’t much of an option.
“It took us a little time to get the ball out and they were already back,” Cooper said. “So that kind of slowed us down a little bit, and we had to play a halfcourt game that we weren’t really planning to do.”
The Lady Bears shot 62 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes and tallied 57 points — the most points Carolina has surrendered in a first half in program history.
Defensively, the second half was “encouraging,” Staley said, and Cooper found ways to get junior guard Tyasha Harris and redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings involved on offense late. But the Gamecocks still shot under 35 percent for the half, and Baylor found more success attacking the basket to complement its outside shooting. The 94 points South Carolina allowed is tied for the most in Staley’s 11-year tenure.
Star of the game: Lele Grissett got just the fifth start of her career Sunday and made it count with her first career double-double, tallying 11 points and 10 rebounds. She was also the only player on the team with a positive plus-minus on the night.
“She is rebounding the ball. That’s something that we weren’t consistently getting. She’s rebounding the ball so that’s always great. And she quarterbacks our full-court press,” Staley said.
Stat of the game: The Gamecocks were punished inside, getting outscored by Baylor 52-28 in the paint.
Play of the game: With a minute to play in the first quarter, South Carolina trailed 25-13, a large but not insurmountable margin. A 3-pointer for Baylor guard Moon Ursin, a Tyasha Harris turnover, a scoop layup by BU guard Chloe Jackson and a steal and score by Lady Bear guard Didi Richards made it 32-13, and the rout was on.
South Carolina wraps up a three-game homestand on Wednesday as it hosts Appalachian State, starting at 7 p.m. and streamed online on SEC Network Plus.