It was great to see Tiffany Mitchell don the cape one more time and drive South Carolina to a win. Even after the offseason foot surgery which left some rust through the early season, or games where she didn’t appear herself, Mitchell took over when she absolutely had to take over.
If the No. 2 Gamecocks’ post game had done its job, though, Mitchell wouldn’t have had to.
“I don’t think our posts did a great job posting up and making themselves available,” USC coach Dawn Staley said after the Gamecocks’ narrow win at Vanderbilt. “They had a lot of responsibility on the defensive side of the ball, so they got kind of worn out a little bit early.”
Nobody was griping too much that the team had to lean on Mitchell – that’s usually the gameplan, especially in a tight game. But when Alaina Coates had a double-double, yet only took six shots, and A’ja Wilson had as many points as fouls (four), the performance drew memories of many games already this season.
The Gamecocks have won all of them, but there’s been that cloud of not playing their sharpest. The general feeling is, “Well, they haven’t lost … yet.”
As the Commodores kept coming and USC kept fading in and out, the “yet” was the operative term. Until Mitchell ducked into the phone booth, anyway.
USC wants all of its weapons firing at peak efficiency – all the time. That trashes the “yet” and means if the Gamecocks get beat, it’s because they played a better team. And there aren’t that many more talented teams.
“They just forced us to make outside shots,” Mitchell said. “Our posts didn’t do a great job of posting harder, so they could get to the ball. It’s just the positioning they’re in. They’re getting two, three people on them every time.”
Practice was spent working on it, so the Gamecocks can show their usual inside dominance against the No. 20 Tigers. USC needs to have a strong post game, since whatever it gets from its guards may be surpassed by Mizzou’s Sophie Cunningham.
The first McDonald’s All-American in program history, the freshman Cunningham is ninth in the SEC in scoring and dropped 42 points in just her fourth collegiate game. Staley knows a few things about SEC Freshmen of the Year after coaching the last two, so as the leading contender this year visits, USC’s defense needs to take away Cunningham’s comfort zones and its offense needs to trump her output.
“She does a lot of things, so you can’t just point to one thing,” Staley said. “She plays both sides of the ball, she’s a competitor, she can score in a variety of ways. She’s going to play for 40 minutes, so we have to make sure we’re not relaxed.”
The Gamecocks have faced – and shut down or surpassed – superstars several times before. Cunningham may get her points, but if USC is doing its usual, OK.
That requires the forwards to do what they normally do so if the guards aren’t connecting as well as they were from outside against Vanderbilt, a win is still in sight.
“(Vanderbilt) took that option away from us, but I think our team is in a position of we feel good about what we’re doing from the outside, and that was kind of the saving grace for us,” Staley said.
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NO. 20 MISSOURI (14-1, 1-1 SEC) at NO. 2 USC (14-0, 2-0)
When: Noon Sunday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
Missouri’s probable starters: G Sophie Cunningham 6-1 Fr. (14.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg); G Lindsey Cunningham 6-0 Jr. (5.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg); G Sierra Michaelis 5-10 Jr. (10.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg); F Jordan Frericks 6-1 Jr. (12.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg); F Cierra Porter 6-4 Fr. (10.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 Sr. (5.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 Sr. (14.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Asia Dozier 6-0 Sr. (4.2 ppg, 1.0 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 So. (16.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Jr. (12.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg)
Next game: USC tips off at No. 10 Kentucky at 7 p.m. on Thursday.