Columbia, SC: In a battle of the last two remaining unbeaten teams, a raucous Colonial Life Arena crowd, a hard-nosed defensive gameplan, and incredibly efficient shooting led the #1 Gamecocks to their 31st straight victory, an 88-64 victory over #3 LSU. The 18,000 person capacity crowd was loud from the pregame and did not let up until after the final whistle, serving as a vital “6th woman” of sorts for the home team.
Coach Dawn Staley has accumulated an abundance of depth on this team and used her plethora of bigs to frustrate Wooden Award and SEC Player of the Year candidate Angel Reese all game long. Victaria Saxton opened the game on Reese, but then fellow Wooden Award and SEC Player of the Year candidate Aliyah Boston switched over and stuck to Reese like glue. Any time Boston needed a breather, Laeticia Amihere provided fresh legs off the bench. Any time Reese got the ball in the paint, Kamillo Cardoso rotated over, creating suffocating defense on Reese for 40 minutes. The frustration for Reese was visible, as her 16 points (nine in the 4th quarter) and four boards were well below her season averages of 24 points and 16 rebounds.
USC entered Sunday’s game as a highly efficient team but took it to another level against LSU. The Gamecocks shot 57% from the field as a team and did a terrific job of using motion and high low screens to get the ball into the paint. They minimized the reliance on three pointers and seemed to make the right passes all game long. Any time LSU tried to double team, USC ball handlers found the open player, creating many uncontested, high percentage jumpers. Defensively, USC held LSU well below their season average of 86.7 points per game.
Kamilla Cardoso led the Gamecocks with 18 points (7-9 FG) and 13 boards, Zia Cook had 17 points, and Aliyah Boston added 14 points and nine boards, to go along with stellar defense on Angel Reese. Alexis Morris led LSU with 23 points and 6 rebounds but took 29 shots to get there. In other statistical categories, the Gamecocks outrebounded the Tigers 43-25, won the bench points battle 34-15, led fast break points 14-6, led assists 14-5, and even though they lost the turnover margin, Coach Staley’s squad still scored ten more points off turnovers than LSU.
The game was pure dominance from the opening tip, and even though Coach Staley denied this afterwards, it sure looked like a reminder game to LSU that they have a long way to go to catch the Gamecocks. USC improves to 25-0 on the season and 12-0 in the SEC.
Up next will be a visit from the Florida Gators Thursday night at 7:00.