Dawn Staley insists South Carolina women’s basketball is getting closer and closer to finally defeating powerhouse Connecticut.
And for a half on Monday, the No. 11 Gamecocks proved her right, matching the No. 4 Huskies shot for shot and even taking an early lead, silencing the home crowd at XL Center.
Then UConn asserted itself in a major way.
In the end, the result was more of the frustrating same for Gamecock fans — Connecticut took home the 97-79 win, its eighth in a row over USC (17-6, 9-1 SEC).
“I think we’re getting better every game that we play,” senior Bianca Cuevas-Moore said when asked if Carolina is getting closer to finally knocking off UConn. “It’s just the mental lapses that we have.”
A 29-12 third quarter proved to be the major difference, as the Huskies held Staley’s team to 28.6 percent shooting in the period while shooting 62.5 percent themselves.
“We’ve had quarters where we’ve played really, really well ... but given the quality of the team we were playing against, I would say, yeah, that was pretty good,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said when asked if the third quarter was the best his team has played all year. “We did a lot of really great things on both ends. ... That pretty much ended the game right there.”
The dreadful third quarter overshadowed a brilliant first half for the Gamecocks, who came out confident and cool, seizing an early 15-8 lead. Junior guard Te’a Cooper had six points in a row, and Bianca Cuevas-Moore and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan added 3-pointers for a blazing 10-for-12 start from the field that included a 14-4 run.
However, a touch foul forced Cooper to the bench midway through the quarter, and that, combined with a media timeout, allowed UConn to regroup, especially on defense.
“You gotta drive on UConn,” Staley said of that first quarter. “You gotta put them back on their heels and expect not many fouls called. You gotta play through physical contact, gotta play through attacking the paint.”
USC finished the quarter on a 2-for-9 stretch from the floor. Connecticut, meanwhile, countered with an 11-2 run of its own to come within one point. A late 3-pointer from Tyasha Harris, however, gave USC a 27-23 lead after the first quarter.
“The way the first quarter went, at the end of the quarter, ... I said, ‘Look, there’s not going to keep making that many shots, I don’t think,’” Auriemma said. “If they get 30 every quarter, I said, we’re not going to win.”
UConn continued to heat up in the second quarter, making nine of its 15 shots in the period. South Carolina, meanwhile, struggled to produce offensively at times. Junior guard Tyasha Harris came up big with four points to halt the Connecticut surge, though, and a last-second jumper from Herbert Harrigan made it 44-43 UConn at the half.
After the break though, the Huskies could not be contained, while Carolina simply seemed deflated. UConn seniors Katie Lou Samuelson and Naphessa Collier led the charge, combining for 22 points. The Gamecocks were whistled for seven fouls in the quarter, leading to 10 UConn free throw attempts.
The fourth quarter marked a return to even, back-and-forth play, but by then, it was too late. A late barrage of scoring from Cooper and Cuevas-Moore put them both above 20 points on the night, but after running his starting lineup for essentially the entirety of the first three quarters, Auriemma had his squad back off and cruise home for the victory.
“We didn’t hit shots. We hit shots in the first two quarters, and when you’re able to do that, you gotta keep it close with them. You’re not coming back from a big lead in this building. ... They just come at you in waves. I thought we handled it in the first half,” Staley said. “In the second half, we came up a little short.”
Star of the game: Bianca Cuevas-Moore led the Gamecocks with 25 points and looked as good as she has all year.
Stat of the game: UConn dominated points in the paint, 50-30, and USC’s top interior threat, senior Alexis Jennings scored just six points in 18 minutes.
“They junked it up. They played a lot of zone. I think they were really concerned about our speed and our ability to drive the paint,” Staley said. “And we gotta do a better job of getting our post players the ball, and they gotta do a better job at scoring when they have opportunities. If they’re falling, we’ll continue to go there, but we felt like we were not scoring and not getting back in transition.”
Play of the game: With 8:27 left in the third quarter, Te’a Cooper went down under the basket holding her knee. With her on the bench, UConn went on a 10-3 run, making six consecutive shots to open a double-digit lead and take command of the game.
“We held serve in the first half with Te’a basically not playing in the second quarter. I don’t think just one player is going to be the difference-maker. We have to do it as a unit. We do have enough depth to overcome one of our guards (being out),” Staley said. “We just needed more from our bigs.”
South Carolina returns home and resumes conference play on Thursday for a Valentine’s Day matchup with Georgia at 7 p.m. on Monday.
|SOUTH CAROLINA (17-6)|
Herbert Harrigan 5-12 0-0 11, Jennings 3-5 0-0 6, Cooper 8-10 2-2 20, Cuevas-Moore 8-18 5-6 25, Harris 4-11 2-2 11, Grissett 0-0 0-0 0, Jackson 1-3 0-0 3, Saxton 0-2 1-2 1, Henderson 1-4 0-0 2, Perry 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 30-66 10-12 79.
Collier 15-23 1-2 31, Walker 2-7 0-0 6, Dangerfield 3-7 3-4 10, Samuelson 10-19 8-8 29, Williams 7-8 3-3 19, Camara 0-0 0-0 0, Irwin 0-0 0-0 0, Nelson-Ododa 0-1 2-2 2, Bent 0-0 0-0 0, Coombs 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 37-65 17-19 97.
|South Carolina||27||16||12||24||— 79|
3-Point Goals: South Carolina 9-22 (Herbert Harrigan 1-3, Cooper 2-2, Cuevas-Moore 4-9, Harris 1-4, Jackson 1-2, Henderson 0-2), UConn 6-18 (Collier 0-3, Walker 2-5, Dangerfield 1-4, Samuelson 1-4, Williams 2-2). Assists: South Carolina 15 (Harris 5), UConn 19 (Collier 6). Fouled Out: South Carolina Cooper. Rebounds: South Carolina 27 (Jennings 4), UConn 39 (Collier 16). Total Fouls: South Carolina 17, UConn 14. Technical Fouls: None. Attendance: 11,740.