Ragged start, strong finish. Second-ranked South Carolina overcame a bad beginning and whipped undermanned Clemson 67-41 in a rivalry setting. No problems, right?
“We’re trying to win a national championship. Every time we step on the floor, we want to look like national champions and not take two steps back,” fumed coach Dawn Staley. “The effort has to be what it’s always been on both sides of the ball. Just not pleased with it.”
Staley wasn’t playing bad-cop. The Gamecocks (3-0) won handily, but only after they woke up. Ahead 31-20 at halftime against a team that has 13 freshmen or sophomores among its 14-woman roster, and lost by 24 to Division II Anderson in an exhibition, and by 16 to Coastal Carolina three days ago, USC used a 27-8 third-quarter run to break the game open. The inside game, which was apparently still in Columbia in the first half, flourished and the Gamecocks began knocking down 3-pointers.
They won their sixth straight rivalry matchup on the road in a tiny gym usually reserved for volleyball. There were excuses.
Players knew better than to use them when their coach was probably plotting a two-hour film session on the bus ride home.
“We’re a lot better team than what we showed,” two-time SEC Player of the Year Tiffany Mitchell said. “She kind of just reiterated that to us in the locker room.”
Mitchell led the Gamecocks with 18 points while Alaina Coates had 10. Nine of the 10 Gamecocks who played scored, USC had 13 assists on 23 field goals, only turned it over five times and blocked six shots with 12 steals.
They also couldn’t hit a shot in the first half, forwards Coates and A’ja Wilson missing open looks. They had to start relying on 3-pointers, something Staley doesn’t like to do unless the ball goes inside first, and only out-rebounded a much smaller team by five. Had Clemson not turned it over 19 times, leading to 21 USC points, the game would have been much closer.
“I have no idea,” Staley said when asked what the problem was. “You don’t get up to play Clemson, our rival, in-state school, you’re in the wrong locker room.”
About to play the next four very far away from home and against some strong competition, Staley didn’t want to see what she saw Wednesday. It didn’t have to repeat last year’s 58-point thrashing, but it should have resembled it.
It didn’t. Staley wasn’t about to let it slide, either.
“Just not happy with uninspired play,” she said. “I know there were spurts where we looked decent, but overall, I didn’t like the effort that we got.”
The visitor’s locker room at Jervey will need a paint job. Staley most likely left no flake attached after the way her team played in the first half. The Gamecocks scored five points out of the locker room and put the game away.
Star of the game: Staley said that Mitchell still had some rust on her game after offseason foot surgery. Mitchell said on Tuesday that she felt all the way back. With the rest of the team piddling through the first half, she again told them to climb aboard.
Play of the game: Jatarie White, starting over Wilson in the second half, passed to Sarah Imovbioh, starting over Coates, under the basket. Imovbioh laid it in, hit the and-1 and the Gamecocks were off and running in a dominant third quarter.
Stat of the game: The Gamecocks had 21 points off 19 Clemson turnovers. That’s what set the early lead more than USC’s play.
FROM THE BASELINE
Bread with no butter: The Gamecocks want to work the ball inside on first and second option, if not third and fourth. They worked on it after settling too early for jumpers against UNC Greensboro. Inside shots weren’t falling at Clemson, so USC went back outside for shots that weren’t falling. Perhaps a re-stressing on the plane to L.A.?
Hack-A-Shaq: The easiest shot in the game continues to befuddle USC. The Gamecocks were 14-of-28 from the line on Wednesday, leaving them 51-of-86 (59.3 percent) for the year.
Who: South Carolina vs. UCLA
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
TV: Pac-12 Network