Five things we learned from the UConn game

After South Carolina’s dethroning at the hands of the Connecticut Huskies, 87-62 last night, there was only one real silver lining.

This was a good learning experience.

Despite the loss, playing UConn in the regular season on their home court was still a good thing. It allowed the Gamecocks to go into a hostile environment and feel what it is like to go head to head with the best in the nation. Now, they need to take that experience and learn from it.

As an observer of the game, here are five things that we learned from last night’s loss.

1. UConn has an incredible home environment.

There’s a reason why the Huskies haven’t witnessed a loss in Gampel Pavilion since Notre Dame in 2013. There fans are bonkers. Very few fanbases in women’s college basketball can put the kind of pressure on opposing players that UConn’s did last night. They didn’t let mountains of blistering snow stop them from shaking the rafters and clearly rattling the Gamecocks.

2. South Carolina is still too one-dimensional.

UConn had the complete package. Toss it down low to Breanna Stewart and watch her go to work in the post, leave it to Moriah Jefferson and she breaks a couple ankles, or dish it out to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for an endless flurry of three pointers.

Bianca Cuevas is one of the big freshmen off of the bench Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report
Bianca Cuevas is one of the big freshmen off of the bench
Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report

Although South Carolina has made strides in becoming more versatile, outside of Tiffany Mitchell, almost all of the scoring comes from the paint. Whenever the Gamecocks play a team, like UConn, that can challenge them in the post, they have difficulty scoring.

3. UConn is good.

This team has made tremendous strides since their overtime loss on the road to Stanford. With an 18 point victory in South Bend against number four Notre Dame and a 31 point blowout of Duke at home, everyone knew this would be a tough matchup for Dawn Staley and the crew. Coming off of a road trip to Athens, four days prior, going up to Storrs, and running over the dynasty that is Connecticut women’s basketball was a pretty tall order. It’s always good to keep things in perspective.

4. This team is still young.

Despite having three seniors on this year’s team, only Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam contribute big time minutes. Beyond those three, South Carolina has four juniors, three sophomores, and five freshmen. Two of those freshmen, A’ja Wilson and Bianca Cuevas, are main contributors off of the bench and Wilson is second on the team in scoring and rebounds.

That youth showed last night on ESPN2 in front of a raucous crowd and with all the weight of the world on their shoulders against the best of the best. As a result, USC turned the ball over 17 times and had a plethora of lapses defensively.

5. The future is still bright.

With six regular season games left, three of which are against ranked opponents, and an SEC Tournament, the Gamecocks have plenty of time to analyze their team and rebound from this defeat. This is not a team that will go down without a fight. When asked if they would like to play UConn again, Tiffany Mitchell, Aleighsa Welch, and Dawn Staley all replied over each other with a resounding yes.

And that’s the kind of mentality that this team has. Dawn Staley will take this and use it as an experience to teach from. USC women’s basketball will come back and they’ll get another shot at the Huskies.

Besides, it’s the second victory that really counts.

 

Conference schedule could help Gamecocks against Huskies

Today is the day. Number one and number two will clash in a matchup to prove who really belongs on top of the women’s college basketball world.

Dawn Staley will bring her Gamecocks into a hostile environment that averaged over 8,000 fans a game last season and will be out in droves to try and occupy all 10,167 seats in the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. And although this UConn team will be the best they’ve faced all season, South Carolina has one big advantage over the Huskies.

Conference schedule.

Since the disbanding of the Big East, Connecticut has gone from playing in a power conference, to one that features only one other ranked team, the South Florida Bulls, who just make the list at number 25. As a result, the Bulls have been the Huskies’ only top 25 game since December 29 against Duke.

However, on the lower edge of the east coast, Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks, have had to go up against the likes of number 10 Kentucky, 14th ranked Texas A&M, and the number 24 ranked Georgia Bulldogs on the road.

That kind of day in and day out experience could pay big dividends for the Gamecocks. It not only helps fine tune the team against the nation’s best competition, it helps avoid the lull of dominating opponents week in and week out by 30 points or more.

By the same token, the continual grind of basketball in the SEC could work as a disadvantage for USC. Turning around from a three hour drive to Athens to go 13 hours to Storrs in a timespan of four days is not easy, especially against quality competition. It’s the kind of physical grind that makes the home court advantage so real in the world of sports.

How South Carolina responds to the travel and the hype of this game will be one of the biggest factors in deciding the final outcome. A tired and overwhelmed Gamecocks squad could find themselves down big on the road against one of the most storied programs in college basketball history.

If Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks want to prove to the nation that they belong at the top of the game, a victory tonight is a must. Both teams have been looking forward to this game for weeks now and it looks to be the most hyped game of the season.

If South Carolina sticks to the game plan and executes properly, they will make it back to Columbia unscathed.

Prediction:

South Carolina 65

UConn 62

WBB Tweet Week is all that is good about sports

 

In a world where student athletes constantly come under intense scrutiny for being spoiled and entitled, the South Carolina women’s basketball team has shown that they are the complete opposite. As Dawn Staley continues to draw in the nation’s best talent, she simultaneously brings in some of the nation’s best character. With all of the national media attention, the big wins, and big stages, it would only be natural for players to become overly fond of themselves.

Not on this team.

Day in and day out, players that were used to being the sole stars of their teams have accepted lesser roles coming off the bench and still buy in to what Coach Staley is trying to establish. If you look across the world of sports today, how many dominant athletes, such as A’ja Wilson, would not only accept playing off the bench, but embrace it with the type of smile that can light up a room. How many senior leaders, with awards and recognitions out the wazoo, would move over and allow rookie players such as Wilson to step up the way that Aleighsa Welch has?

In the modern sports era, not many.

On a team where four five star recruits are nipping at the heels of established South Carolina basketball players, how could it be that those players were more excited than the coaching staff to lead the younger players from the bench? The Gamecock women’s basketball team is just a different kind of team. They embody everything that is good about college athletics. Their team is the epitome of uniting in a common goal and laying everything you have on the line to achieve that goal. It’s a huge reason why so many great recruits are coming to play for Dawn Staley. It’s also why this program has gone from SEC Doormat to National Title Contender in just seven years.

However, they don’t just display these character traits on the court. They continue to excel in the classroom as well with a team average GPA of 3.074 in the 2014 fall semester. Being a student and an athlete is tough and excelling at both displays a tremendous amount of dedication.

Beyond the classroom, the players make a point of interacting with their fans. This week has been the official Women’s Basketball Tweet Week. Different players have taken over the Gamecock Women’s Basketball twitter account, answering questions from fans, posting updates, and just goofing off. Once again, this team shows that they really care about people. They love their fans and the people who have helped them get to where they are today. Never forgetting the little people is something that all truly great individuals display and this women’s basketball team is just that.

Despite whether or not this team sees the program’s first National Championship or not, this team will have been a success. The beautiful program that exists in Columbia is a unique and dying breed in today’s world of college athletics. If they continue to stick to what they do and what they believe in, they will always be winners.

Not just in basketball, but in life.

 

 

Just for fun, here are some of Garnet Report’s favorite moments from Women’s Basketball Tweet Week:

Grtiffdavis

GRtweetjokes

Grtweetaja2

Grtweetmitch

GRtweetajaAgain, Welch proving her senior leadership

 

Aggies are a tough matchup for the Gamecocks

Another day, another big test for the number one South Carolina Gamecocks as they  host the number 10 ranked Texas A&M Aggies in their seventh SEC matchup of the season. With everything to prove week in and week out, this matchup will be yet another measuring stick to gauge the true ability of this team.

A&M brings in the size to match the Gamecocks’ post players with 6’7″ junior center, Rachel Mitchell, 6’5″ freshman center, Khaalia Hillsman, and 6’3″ sophomore, Jada Terry. The three centers have combined for 47 total blocks and 158 rebounds this season. With that kind of size and production, South Carolina is going to need to rely more on their long range game than their usual dump off passes to the post.

However, what’s even more impressive about this Aggies team are their Courtneys. Courtney Walker and Courtney Williams average 14.6 and 14.1 points per game respectively and have the experience and ability to light it up at any moment. Combined with 5’6″ guard, Jordan Jones, who is seventh in the nation in assists, A&M brings a dual threat combination of skill and size.

Speaking of experience, the Aggies’ roster includes six juniors and four seniors; one of these being senior leader Achiri Ade. She is an aggressive force on the court, with a total of 171 rebounds on the season, 70 of which are offensive. Look for her to provide that extra edge that makes teams like A&M so dangerous.

As a team, their only three losses were to number five Tennessee, number eight Texas, and Washington, who has flirted with the Top 25 all season long. They rank seventh in opposing field goal percentage and 26th in overall defense, which is indicative of the kind of scrappy basketball that Dawn Staley has also established with South Carolina. Both coaches will see to it that this game is hard fought to the final minutes. It will probably come down to whoever really goes after it and manages to win the most hustle plays.

The prediction? Dawn Staley will stick with the scheme that has worked all season and the Gamecocks will wear down the Aggies in the final stretch, coming away with their 19th consecutive win in front of a packed house of screaming fans.

South Carolina 60

Texas A&M 55

Florida victory is proof of South Carolina’s dominance

Last night’s 77-42 beat down of Florida in Gainesville is proof that South Carolina belongs on top in women’s college basketball. Although this final score didn’t resemble the past couple of slugfests against SEC foes Missouri and Kentucky, it was the exact same formula that Dawn Staley has been using all year long and it has led to an 18-0 (6-0) record.

Against Florida, South Carolina played fantastic defense, holding Florida to 27.1% shooting from the field, solidifying their lead at a steady pace as they wore the Gators out with size, athleticism, and depth.

In Columbia, Missouri, much of the same took place. The Tigers were held to 29.6% shooting and as South Carolina made the extra baskets where Missouri couldn’t, they slowly accumulated their 11 point final margin of victory.

Aggressive post play has been a big part of South Carolina's success. Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report
Aggressive post play has been a big part of South Carolina’s success.
Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report

A couple days earlier in Columbia, South Carolina, this plan was executed once again versus a more formidable opponent; number 10 Kentucky. Throughout a first half in which Kentucky seemed to be making all the big plays, South Carolina relied on good defense and a steady dose of scoring to keep the game within one possession going into the half. In the second half, as the minutes ticked by and the game wore on, the Gamecocks compiled a lead as high as 12 points and eventually won by 8.

It doesn’t matter what the margin of victory is, until Staley’s formula fails, South Carolina deserves to be number one in women’s college basketball. The method to the madness is innately slow developing and requires a lot of patience and hustle on behalf of the team. They aren’t a team of high-flying scoring machines that will blow every opponent out by 50 points. They are a team that meticulously grinds you in the paint, defensively, and mentally until you submit and that is how the team likes to play.

As a result, tough nail biters against quality basketball teams like Duke and Kentucky are bound to happen. At the same time, massive blowouts such as Alabama and Florida are equally bound to happen. It’s all a matter of how a team responds to the high intensity playing style of the Gamecocks.

A win is a win, no matter what the final margin of victory may be. Comparisons between this team and previous national champions or other quality basketball teams are irrelevant and pointless. This basketball team has a unique playing style as does every other team in the nation.

And so, until the Gamecocks are defeated, they deserve to be at the spot meant for undefeated teams. The proof is in the victories, not the final margin of those victories.

 

Women’s basketball by the numbers

Regardless of whether or not you think the South Carolina women’s is the best team in the nation right now, there is no denying that they are good. Coming off of another conference victory against Florida on the road last night, the Gamecocks are now 18-0 overall and 6-0 in the SEC.

Just to put the greatness of this team into perspective, here are some of the numbers from this season:

Dawn Staley’s team averages a 29.0 point margin of victory every time they step on the court.

The Gamecocks have scored over 100 points twice and managed to put up 111 against Savannah State.

South Carolina’s top four scorers average as many points per game as the entire other team.

Colonial Life Arena hasn't seen a loss in 26 home games and counting. Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report
Colonial Life Arena hasn’t seen a loss in 26 home games and counting.
Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report

The Gamecocks are ranked second in scoring defense, fourth in opponent field goal percentage, seventh in rebounding margin, tenth in blocks, and 29th in forced turnovers per game. That’s some pretty good defense.

Offensively, South Carolina ranks second in scoring margin, fifth in field goal percentage, eighth in assists, and 14th in overall scoring. They’re pretty much better than their opposition on both sides of the ball…

Despite being the number two scoring defense in the nation, not one individual Gamecock player makes the top 50 cut in rebounds, blocks, or steals.

Tiffany Mitchell is currently shooting 47.4% from beyond the arc; that puts her at sixth in the nation.

With 139 victories in seven seasons as head coach of South Carolina, Dawn Staley is on track to decimate Nancy Wilson’s coaching wins record of 231 in 13 seasons.

Eight of USC’s 15 players are at least six feet tall or more.

Last season, South Carolina fans ranked first in largest increase in women’s basketball attendance. This season, they rank number one in the nation in average attendance and were 557 fans short of breaking the Colonial Life Arena’s record crowd against Kentucky on January 11.

The Gamecocks have not lost at home since February 2, 2013; a two point heartbreaker to Texas A&M. That win streak is currently at 26 games and counting.

The conclusion, this women’s basketball team is the best that Dawn Staley has yet to produce. They have been ranked number one for nine straight weeks with a roster that includes only two seniors. It is safe to say that this has become the best era of South Carolina women’s basketball to date.

Calling all Gamecocks

On Saturday, the men’s basketball team dropped to 1-3 in the SEC with a loss to the Auburn Tigers in what turned out to be a hostile environment in Auburn Arena.  In what has turned out to be a trend in the Frank Martin era, that the team has only managed to win three road games in the two and a half years under Martin, the Gamecocks were unable to pull out the victory away from the friendly confines of Colonial Life Arena.

It was amazing to see how the Auburn crowd, which has been rejuvenated by the arrival of Bruce Pearl, helped to rattle the Gamecocks’ confidence whenever Auburn seemed to be making a run.

College basketball is one of the sports where it seems like the crowd can have a huge impact on the opposing team.  For example, the Cameron Crazies have garnered endless amounts of praise, most notably from Dickie V, by being a vital part of the Duke basketball tradition that has been so successful since the hiring of Coach K.

Frank Martin enjoyed the same type of student support at Kansas State, with the purple clad undergrads turning out in droves for their home games in Manhattan.  The student section, known for being the largest in the Big 12, earned the nickname the “Octagon of Doom” for the intimidating environment that they create.

So what’s taking so long for Gamecock students to catch on?

Martin takes every opportunity, either through the media or his personal Twitter account, to praise the fans’ support at games, such as tweeting after the win vs. Alabama on Tuesday, “Gamecock students u were incredible tonite.  Know that u helped us win tonite & that u r appreciated.  U guys r the best!!!!!!”

martin
Frank Martin has been trying to build a fearsome home environment in Columbia like the one he had during his time at Kansas State.

That’s right, Frank Martin, the man known for being crazy and screaming on sidelines, broke out six exclamation points to thank the 3,000 students that came to the game.

The only problem was that half of them left early.

It’s not like he was tweeting about his buddy Pitbull, so why was Frank so excited, you might ask?  Because Martin realizes the impact a good atmosphere at home games can have on a program.

Just look at the football team.  Williams-Brice Stadium has scarred Todd Gurley to the point that he never wants to hear Sandstorm ever again.

So why aren’t the basketball games as rowdy and exciting as Saturdays in Williams-Brice?

Are people waiting for the team to have some success like the women’s team before really coming out in full force?  The best way that you can help the team improve is to make home games have such a great atmosphere that it makes recruits want to be a part of it.  Local stars like someone whose name rhymes with Shmeventh Shmoods come to these games.

A great experience could stick in their mind and make them want to pick up that Gamecocks hat when they’re signing on National Signing Day.  If we can get 80,000 to Williams-Brice every Saturday and 17,000 at a women’s basketball game, then there’s no reason that the stands shouldn’t be packed for the men’s team as well.

So come out on Tuesday and, more importantly, Saturday, scream your head off, and hopefully see a couple of Gamecocks wins.

You could be the difference.

The USC student section is a convenient scapegoat

As Alabama’s last shot attempt clanked off the rim and the final seconds melted off the clock, the fans that were there went wild in Colonial Life Arena, celebrating their team’s first conference win of the season.

Now, rewind the clock back 10 minutes. Half of the students that had packed their corner of the arena had exited the building. Alabama was slowly chipping away at a lead that had once been fifteen points and the men’s basketball team needed its fans more than ever.

Where were the students?

They probably didn’t care enough to stay. They have no loyalty to the team, to the school, or to their fellow students who are working so hard on the court. They’d probably rather be in five points.

These are the kinds of conclusions that Gamecock fans so readily spout out at the sight of students leaving a game early. Although it is understood that this is a problem, it is not solely a student problem. It is a problem that permeates the entire South Carolina fan base and the students have been used as a convenient scapegoat for far too long.

Around 15 players stayed on the field for the Alma Mater after Saturday's loss.At the beginning of Tuesday’s home game against Alabama the student section was packed. The students had filled their respective seats for a 9 o’clock game to watch a team that looked like it may have been on its way to another losing SEC season. And that loyalty stopped with the students. There was a sea of garnet beyond the student section… A sea of garnet empty chairs. There were entire rows of empty seats and the upper deck may as well not even exist because those “loyal fans” that constantly look down upon the student body are never loyal enough to fill them.

And it isn’t just basketball.

There was not a soul, anywhere in the stadium, for the home football games against South Alabama and Furman. Fans of all ages skipped out on the game, yet the only fans that continually get pounded for lack of loyalty are the students.

These other, and far more superior, Gamecock “fans” are the same ones that actually have the money to travel to a bowl game. ESPN panned out to the crowd only once because of how dismal the fan turnout was.

Yes, the students should be the most energized part of the fan base. And the sad part about our fan base, is that it is. No one in Williams-Brice stands the entire game except the student section. No one starts the wave, jumps up and down to Sandstorm as an entire body, ignites chants, or yells on every opponent’s offensive possessions. And when the students leave early, the energy goes out of the crowd. Maybe that’s why they are the scapegoat. When they’re gone, the crowd presence at South Carolina athletic events is abysmal.

There remains to be seen a crowd in college athletics that sits down with their arms crossed more than South Carolina fans. So maybe, students leaving early is just a manifestation of an overwhelming problem in an entire fan base. Maybe, all Gamecock fans should look introspectively and wonder if they’ve done everything in their power to vitalize this fan base. If a fan can honestly say they have, then they can place judgment on the student section.

Otherwise, keep your mouth shut and just watch the game. It’s what South Carolina fans are good at.

The future shines bright on the South Carolina men’s basketball team

With Tuesday night’s victory over Alabama, the Gamecocks managed to snap a two game losing streak, notch their first SEC victory of the season, and breathe a little life into the Colonial Life Arena. Heading into the conference schedule, this scenario was definitely not what most South Carolina fans were expecting.

A seven game win streak, three of which included Oklahoma State, Clemson, and previously ranked number nine Iowa State, had Carolina fans dreaming of March Madness until a disheartening loss to Florida at home and a rough 16 point loss in Oxford left the Gamecock faithful with feelings reminiscent of the past half decade of Gamecock hoops.

And although this year may not be the breakthrough that everyone has expected from Frank Martin for the past three seasons, there is reason to believe that the future is bright for Gamecock basketball.

Mindaugas Kacinas has been one of many to benefit from good coaching. Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report
Mindaugas Kacinas has been one of many to benefit from good coaching.
Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report

As a freshman, 6’11” Laimonas Chatkevicius averaged 4.4 points and 3.2 rebounds a game and recorded a season total of 13 blocked shots. 15 games into his junior season, the Lithuanian native is averaging 9.4 points and 5.2 rebounds a game and has already swatted away 22 attempts this early in the season.

And the box score doesn’t truly reflect the enormous strides that Chatkevicius has taken since his arrival on campus three years ago. He’s aggressive, goes for rebounds, has refined his post game, and consistently forces opposing players to alter their shots as they drive to the paint. It’s almost as if Laimonas is an entirely different player from the one that felt the wrath of Coach Martin so often early on in his career.

Chatkevicius isn’t the only one either. Michael Carrera, Duane Notice, and Mindaugas Kacinas have all developed into significant role players behind the innate talent of Tyrone Johnson and Sindarius Thornwell.

This kind of change doesn’t happen on accident. It is a surefire sign that Frank Martin is recruiting players that fit in his system and that they believe in everything he is trying to do. One would be hard pressed to find a game when the South Carolina men’s basketball team didn’t give everything they had on the court.

It might be next season or it might be five seasons from now, but one of these days, that kind of work and dedication is going to pay off in a big way. That is the season Gamecock fans should be looking out for.

This team could be Dawn Staley’s best yet

Last year’s team was good enough to earn a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s team is good enough to defend that number one seed.

With today’s 89-38 victory over San Diego State, the Gamecocks improve to 3-0 on the season with a 38 point average margin of victory. However, these teams haven’t been your usual cakewalk contract games. Staley’s team has been hanging nearly 100 points on teams from the Pac-12 and the ACC.

And what makes this team so much more dynamic than those of years past is not necessarily the recent influx of the nation’s best basketball recruits. It’s the team’s offensive balance.

Last season, the majority of South Carolina’s points came from the paint. Staley’s entire offensive scheme revolved around feeding the post players down low and dominating the opponent physically. Ultimately, that posed a real problem when teams, such as North Carolina, were able to hang with Alaina Coates and Elem Ibiam.

Bianca Cuevas (1) has emerged as a solid perimeter threat for South Carolina. Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report
Bianca Cuevas (1) has emerged as a solid perimeter threat for South Carolina.
Josh Thompson/ Garnet Report

This season, with the addition of freshman guard, Bianca Cuevas, and another year’s experience on Tiffany Mitchell, USC can hold their own from three point land with anyone in the country. Throw in the mid-range game of A’ja Wilson and Elem Ibiam and the Gamecocks can attack their opponent from anywhere on the court.

When confronted with the sheer size of South Carolina, San Diego State tried to crash down on the post early. Consequently, the long shot opened up and they were forced to come out to the guards on the perimeter. With the Aztecs spread out across the floor, the Gamecocks were able to pick their zone to pieces.

It also didn’t help that the South Carolina defense swarmed all over the Aztecs from the initial sound of the buzzer. Guards Khadijah Sessions and Bianca Cuevas racked led the team with 4 steals apiece en route to a 29 turnover performance. The rangy and athletic Gamecocks’ half court trap wreaked havoc all night, resulting in errant passes and rushed shots from bad locations on the court.

Dawn Staley’s basketball teams have been known for their defensive performance her entire coaching career. It may be too early to tell, but this could be the best defense she has ever produced. Coincidentally, this may also be the best offense she has ever produced.

Honestly, this is the best team she has ever produced.