South Carolina women’s basketball passed its first test of the new season with ease.
Now comes a full-fledged exam.
In its second game of the 2019-20 season, Dawn Staley’s team will go on the road to face No. 4 Maryland. It’s the first meeting between any ranked opponents this year, and it will put the young but talented Gamecocks against a Terrapins squad that is a Final Four contender led by preseason All-American Kalia Charles.
“This is kind of the perfect time to get them,” Staley said. “You know, they’re a really good basketball team they, they have great returners, they got a great freshman class, and they looked pretty good in their first game of the season. So, we’ll see where we line up and how we measure up against them.”
Like South Carolina, Maryland strolled through an easy season opener, routing Wagner 119-56 with seven players scoring in double figures. And like the Gamecocks, the Terrapins have no shortage of impact freshmen — rookies Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller were both McDonald’s All-Americans and started against Wagner.
Unlike South Carolina, Maryland returns five starters from last year’s team that ended the regular season ranked No. 9 in the country before getting upset in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Staley, meanwhile, is dealing with a young roster that got off to a historic start against Alabama State — freshman Aliyah Boston became the first player in NCAA Div. I history to record a triple-double in her first career game, and fellow rookies Zia Cooke and Brea Beal cracked the starting lineup as well.
But maintaining the momentum from that particular first might prove challenging as they move on to another milestone; first road game and first top-10 opponent.
“It’s going to be a dynamic that I’m going to have to get used to, because it’s going to be their first time, you know,” Staley said. “This a lot of firsts for ... five of our 11 eligible players.”
Last year, Maryland came to Colonial Life Arena for the third game of the season and tagged the Gamecocks with an 85-61 loss. That defeat was part a painful stretch for the Gamecocks as they took time to mesh and find their footing.
But one major concern Staley had after that game was her team’s desire to fight under the basket — “Rebounding is not a skill at all, it is a decision,” she said at the time. This time around, she predicted that while the execution might need work, the energy will be high.
“They’re up for the challenge. This team is, I don’t think they’re afraid to play. Maybe they won’t execute as cleanly as we would like, but it won’t be from a place of not wanting to embrace the challenge,” Staley said.
Rebounding will still be a major challenge though. While Boston and her fellow frontcourt players were able to dominate against a much smaller Alabama State team, Maryland has size to match the Gamecocks — 6-foot-5 sophomore Shakira Austin, 6-foot-2 senior Stephanie Jones and the 6-foot-3 freshman Miller will present difficult matchups for the likes of Boston, senior Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and sophomore Victaria Saxton.
“I mean this is a very big game, and I think it’ll be great for us in the long run, but you know we’re going in there to play our top basketball, trying to come out of there with a win against a top-10 team,” Herbert Harrigan said.
“I feel like we gotta go out there and go prove ourselves to people, show them what we really can do, who we really are,” Saxton added.
Who: No. 8 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Maryland
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Xfinity Center, College Park, Maryland