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Why win over Texas A&M proved South Carolina women’s basketball is better than championship team


In its first game after the holiday break last season, South Carolina women’s basketball floundered. The Gamecocks dropped their lone game of the regular season against Missouri, which went on to finish eighth in the SEC.

Although the team went undefeated through the rest of the 2021-22 regular season, the SEC remained a thorn in South Carolina’s side: Its only other loss of the season came in the conference championship to No. 6 seed Kentucky.

On Thursday night, the 2022-23 Gamecocks (13-0, 1-0 SEC) overcame that hurdle, dominating Texas A&M (5-6, 0-1) 76-34 in their SEC opener and first game since the holiday break.

“I like our depth and the fact that we could play at different speeds,” coach Dawn Staley said. “I thought our starters got off to a slow start, but our substitutes came in and pushed the tempo. … I like that we are extremely versatile and can play different people at different times to get a totally different look. The multiple looks is what I really liked about it.”

In last season’s loss to Missouri, Aliyah Boston led South Carolina with 17 points and 12 rebounds, and only she and Kamilla Cardoso scored more than 10. The Tigers were especially effective on 3-pointers, shooting 13-of-16 with both top scorers logging 21 points shooting 100% from 3-point range. The Gamecocks were 6-of-21 beyond the arc.

Against Texas A&M, the Gamecocks shot above their average at 33% from 3-point range. Three players scored in double digits, including two — sophomore Sania Feagin and freshman Talaysia Cooper — who came off the bench. Even with just six points and five rebounds from Boston, the Gamecocks outscored the Aggies by double digits in the first and third quarters and nearly doubled them in rebounding 53-26.

“The offense is coming along nicely … but at some point (Feagin) has to get stops. She has to defend. That’s the only thing really holding her back,” Staley said. “She didn’t get off the bench last year, and for her to change her mentality all summer long and wait behind Aliyah and Kamilla and sometimes Ashlyn (Watkins), when she plays, she’s earned it.”

The Aggies are an underwhelming matchup against South Carolina’s talent compared to the upper echelon of the SEC, but Thursday’s victory wasn’t about the competition. The Gamecocks stood their ground where they stumbled and improved where they struggled last season, which sets a much different tone for the second half of the year.

The biggest question now is whether defending a perfect record is a better position for the defending national champions. Clearly that loss to Missouri did nothing to derail the ultimate mission of hoisting the NCAA Tournament trophy and may have lit a necessary fire under the team.

If an upset is going to happen, it will now likely be later in the season against a more threatening opponent — star transfer Angel Reese and No. 9 LSU would love to dethrone the No. 1 Gamecocks, and Tennessee is fighting to recapture its preseason hype after a competitive loss to No. 2 Stanford.

“I’ve been doing this for a little while. I’m a vet, so I don’t really think about it too much,” senior Zia Cooke said. “It’s just taking it game by game. We play some good teams on our side of the conference, but we have to make sure we keep our foot on the gas because everyone is going to give us their best every time we play.”

Source : Greenville Online