USC Women's Basketball

Baylor’s heavily favored over South Carolina. ‘That’s cute,’ one Gamecock says

Gamecocks have to ‘control the controllables’ to play well against Baylor

The University of South Carolina Gamecocks face Baylor in the NCAA Tournament in Greensboro, NC.
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The University of South Carolina Gamecocks face Baylor in the NCAA Tournament in Greensboro, NC.

What: NCAA tournament, Sweet 16

Who: No. 4 seed South Carolina (23-9, 13-3 SEC) vs. No. 1 seed Baylor (33-1, 18-0 Big 12)

When: 2 p.m. Saturday

Where: Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina

Watch: ESPN

Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia

Projections: FiveThirtyEight gives Baylor an 89 percent chance of winning. Massey Ratings gives Baylor a 91 percent chance of winning. Warren Nolan gives Baylor a 91 percent chance of winning.

Setting the scene: Inside South Carolina’s locker room on Friday ahead of the Gamecocks’ final practice before game time, the mood was loose — even boisterous — as a group of players pounded out a beat on the wood lockers and rapped and joked and laughed. Part of the extra atmosphere, senior guard Doniyah Cliney, was just pre-practice energy getting burned off before buckling in.

But ahead of a matchup in which they will be the heavy underdogs, the Gamecocks are also feeling the freeing sensation of low expectations. If they lose to Baylor, then hardly anyone will be surprised. If they win, they’ll shock the women’s college basketball world.

“Honestly, we have no pressure on us. I feel like the pressure’s all on Baylor,” junior guard Tyasha Harris said. “There’s a lot of people counting us out anyway,so basically it’s on us to just to have fun and when it’s time for business, do our business.”

Junior guard Te’a Cooper wasn’t even aware of the widespread expectation that USC will lose.

“I personally didn’t know that. So I’m just not hearing that. I think that’s cute,” Cooper said of the pregame predictions. “But I mean, we have an opportunity, so I think we gotta use it.”

The University of South Carolina women's basketball team plays Baylor in the Sweet 16 game of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Man vs. Zone: Coach Dawn Staley indicated Wednesday that South Carolina would shift away from the zone defense it tried to implement early in December’s loss. On Friday, BU coach Kim Mulkey confirmed she was expecting to see more man defense this time around.

“The difference probably in that game and probably what you’ll see [Saturday] is they started out in a zone defense, I’m assuming because of our bigs. They stayed in it and we jumped in on that really quick. Our guards hit a lot of perimeter shots, and then they got out of the zone. I don’t anticipate that happening because how effective our guards were against them in December,” Mulkey said.

Bombs away: Baylor has one of the most efficient offenses in the country, averaging 113.1 points per 100 possessions, fifth in the nation, per Her Hoop Stats.

Accordingly, South Carolina cannot afford to trade layup attempts with the Lady Bears, Staley said. On 2-point attempts, Baylor is shooting nearly four percentage points higher than USC.

Instead, Staley said Gamecock fans should expect 3-pointers — lots of them.

“You have to somehow equalize the amount of twos that they produce during the course of a 40-minute game, so we gotta make 3s,” Staley said. “No doubt about it that we’re probably going to shoot more 3s than we’ve ever shot all season long.”

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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.