Strong Baylor too much for USC to overcome
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.”
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.