USC Women's Basketball

How ‘snack time’ helped South Carolina overcome its third-quarter struggles

Dawn Staley previews South Carolina’s second round matchup with Florida State

South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley talks about the challenges No. 5 seed Florida State will present for the No. 4 seed Gamecocks in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley talks about the challenges No. 5 seed Florida State will present for the No. 4 seed Gamecocks in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Putting together 40 full minutes of basketball has been an area of concern and emphasis for the South Carolina women all season long.

And in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Belmont on Friday, coach Dawn Staley loved the Gamecocks’ effort, calling it the team’s best defensive performance of the season.

But where No. 4 seed USC really took control of the game was the third quarter, making 13 of 16 shots and scoring 31 points, more than it had the entire first half. It was one of the best shooting quarters Carolina has ever had, and it came at a point in the game that’s typically given the Gamecocks trouble this year.

“There are just so many bad third quarters that it probably does become a mental block in the back of your head,” sophomore guard Bianca Jackson said before the game. “We try not to let it be, but at the same time, if it keeps happening over and over, you have that in the back of your head.

“As a team, we look back on our games, and we happen to think in the some of the games that we lost or in some of the games that we won but were close that didn’t have to be because of how we played in the third quarter.”

The two prime examples of that were against UConn and Mississippi State, and it became an enough of a concern that coach Dawn Staley went searching for answers.

“The third quarter, the break seems to be something that does something to us,” Staley said before the Belmont game. “I mean, how we’re combating that, we actually talked to our nutritionist and over the past few weeks, it’s gonna sound weird, so excuse me, but we’ve had snack time in practice, Like we’ve created a five to seven minute window that simulates a halftime, where we give them fruit and half of sandwiches and we try to simulate what coming out of halftime feels like. And I think since we’ve been doing it, our halftimes haven’t been that bad.”

Halftime rituals and food are nothing new in sports, but USC’s “snack time” certainly seemed to jump start the Gamecocks against Belmont, and junior guard Te’a Cooper sounded hopeful after the game that any mental block associated with the third quarter was now gone.

“We usually come out in the second half struggling in the third quarter, but this third quarter, I think we shot something like 81 percent? It was pretty ridiculous,” Cooper said. “So we ended that little issue, so we feel really good.”

That hope will now be put to the test against Florida State in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday — the Seminoles already have upset wins over North Carolina State and Iowa to their credit this season and have a young squad that struggled to put No. 12 seed Bucknell away on Friday, finally securing a 70-67 win.

But the Gamecocks’ improved starts to the second half might prove especially crucial against FSU, which leans heavily on its starters and has a short bench. Coach Sue Semrau acknowledged that her team is not as deep as the Gamecocks, who have 11 players averaging more than 10 minutes per game and just one above 30.

“I think we’re both younger, and I think they’re deeper than we are with our small bench, but it’s throw up the ball and let’s see who can get to work,” Semrau said.

Who: No. 4 seed South Carolina (22-9, 13-3 SEC) vs. No. 5 seed Florida State (24-8, 10-6 ACC)

When: 2 p.m., Sunday, March 24

Where: Halton Arena, Charlotte, North Carolina

Watch: ESPN2 or WatchESPN app

Listen: 107.5 FM in Columbia

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.


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