Strong Bay­lor too much for USC to over­come

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY GREG HADLEY [email protected]­ Greg Hadley: @GregHadley9

Head­ing into the NCAA tour­na­ment’s Sweet 16, South Carolina women’s bas­ket­ball had a clear path for for how it would up­set No. 1 over­all seed Bay­lor: 3-point­ers, speed in tran­si­tion and de­fen­sive pres­sure.

But in the first half at Greensboro Coli­seum on Satur­day, the fourth-seeded Game­cocks couldn’t get any of those things, and the Lady Bears roared to an early lead that pushed them a 93-68 win, end­ing the Game­cocks’ sea­son.

“When you’re game plan­ning, it looks good, but when it’s the ac­tual real thing, you’re a step too slow,” USC coach Dawn Sta­ley said of her team’s slow start. “And we had stretches in which there were lapses in ex­e­cut­ing what we wanted.”

The tra­jec­tory of the game mir­rored the two teams’ first meet­ing this sea­son on Dec. 2, when Bay­lor (34-1, 18-0 Big 12) dom­i­nated the first quar­ter en route to a 94-69 win over Carolina (23-10, 13-3 SEC).

Like that first game, how­ever, the Game­cocks showed fight in the sec­ond half af­ter the out­come al­ready seemed cer­tain. South Carolina ac­tu­ally outscored Bay­lor by one point over the fi­nal 20 min­utes on Satur­day and got into the flow of their game plan.

“At half­time, we just kinda … an­a­lyzed our team. Three or four of them have played at this level. So the other ones that haven’t played at this level, it was a big stage in which you have to have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in know­ing how to deal with it. I thought the game set­tled down af­ter half­time,” Sta­ley said.

It wasn’t enough, how­ever, to over­come a bru­tal first half in which the Game­cocks shot just 30.3 per­cent from the field, missed all seven of their 3-point at­tempts and were outscored on the fast break 11-2. All of those is­sues fed on each other, ju­nior guard Te’a Cooper said.

“In or­der to keep push­ing the ball and get in tran­si­tion and stuff, we had to score, and we weren’t re­ally scor­ing too much,” Cooper, who wound up lead­ing the team with 17 points, said.

With­out any speed, USC had no an­swer for Bay­lor’s senior front­court combo of Kalani Brown and Lau­ren Cox, who feasted in the paint, com­bin­ing for 16 points, 12 re­bounds, eight as­sists and five blocks in the first half.

Their dom­i­nance also freed sopho­more guard DiDi Richards to score 15, ty­ing her ca­reer high.

“That’s some­thing that’s go­ing to hap­pen if they con­tinue to dou­bleteam our posts,” Richards said.

“I’m just thank­ful that they are able to find me back-side.”

TRACY GLANTZ [email protected]­

Bay­lor's Lau­ren Cox (15) knocks a re­bound away from South Carolina's LeLe Gris­sett (24) dur­ing the first half Satur­day in the NCAA re­gional semi­fi­nals in Greensboro.

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