Thursday, December 17, 2015

Despite Offensive Struggles, Gamecocks Pull Away From Pirates

In the ten years that I have been covering college basketball, I find that final scores, whether in men's or women's college basketball, are often deceiving.  Such is the case with last night's 86-48 win by South Carolina over Hampton in women's college basketball action at Colonial Life Arena.

Coming off a very impressive 86-37 win over Winthrop on Sunday, which included the Gamecocks leading at the half 47-13 over an Eagles team with a similar record at 2-7, you would think they would not have much trouble with a 1-7 Pirates team that lost five of its seven games by twenty one points or more.

But that's why the game is played and not left to statistical programs.

After an awards ceremony for Coach Dawn Staley, A'ja Wilson, who was sitting again due to nagging injuries, Alaina Coates and Tiffany Mitchell for their play for USA National Teams in the offseason. the Gamecocks started the game out scoring six of their first eight points on free throws, including four by Mitchell, and took an 8-0 lead.   It took the Pirates about four minutes and ten seconds into the first quarter before Malia Tate-DeFreitas hit a basket to make the score 8-2.   South Carolina would answer back scoring six of the next eight points to take a 14-4 lead with about three and a half minutes left in the quarter.  It looked like Hampton would suffer a similar fate to Winthrop, who was outscored 26-7 in the first quarter on Sunday.

Then a funny thing happened.   Hampton showed why they made the second round of the Women's NIT last season, using quickness to create extra possessions for them.  The Pirates would force three Gamecocks turnovers and score the next five points to cut the deficit to 14-9, holding South Carolina scoreless the rest of the quarter.

The Gamecocks seemed frustrated on offense.  Seemingly easy layups just went off the rim,  In one first half possession, the Gamecocks fired two consecutive jumpers off the backboard never hitting a rim.  Even a three point attempt from the corner hit the side of the backboard.  Staley was none too pleased with her offense in the first half of the game.

The second quarter saw the Gamecocks starting to pull away as they went on a 14-2 run over the first six and a half minutes to take a 28-11 lead.  Much of that scoring was due to Coates, who worked hard to free herself from the Pirates defense to score six of those points.   Now it looked like the Gamecocks had finally shaken off the offensive cobwebs.

But once again, South Carolina went into a drought as the Pirates continued to play hard on the defensive end.  Hampton would hold South Carolina to two points in the last three and a half minutes of the second quarter, while scoring seven points of their own in that span.  The Gamecocks only led 30-18 after shooting just 30 percent in the first half.

After a halftime show that featured Cocky doing the Chicken Dance, the Gamecocks started on offense much like the men's basketball team did at the start of the second half vs. Drexel on Tuesday night.  South Carolina hit their first four field goal attempts, including two three pointers and a layup by Mitchell and one by Khadijah Sessions.  Interspersed with those field goals were four three throws, including a free throw on a three point play on the layup by Mitchell.  The Gamecocks extended their lead to nineteen, 45-26.

After a three point play by Tate-DeFreitas cut the lead back to sixteen, 45-29, the Gamecocks would extend the lead over the five final minutes of the quarter to take a 59-38 lead after three quarters.  The Gamecocks nearly scored as many points in the third quarter, twenty nine, than they did in the first twenty minutes of the first half.  They did this despite committing seven turnovers in the quarter.  They also extended their lead despite Hampton scoring more points in the third quarter, twenty, than they did in the first half.   What helped was that South Carolina shot seven of eight from the field in the third quarter.

The Gamecocks continued their hot shooting in the fourth quarter, scoring twenty seven more points while holding the Pirates to ten.   The Gamecocks shot seventy two percent in the second half in rout to the final score of 86-48, which looked a lot easier that it actually was for South Carolina.  Hampton, in playing a tough schedule that included #8 Texas, undefeated Oregon, defending CAA champion James Madison and Iowa State, held their own for a good thirty minutes.

Coming off her triple double against Winthrop, Coates had to settle for a double double with twenty two points and twelve rebounds.  Sarah Imovbioh added nineteen points and seven rebounds, while Mitchell chipped in with seventeen points and six rebounds.  South Carolina nearly had as many offensive rebounds, eighteen, as Hampton had total rebounds, nineteen.  The Gamecocks outrebounded the Pirates 52-19.  Tate-DeFreitas led the Pirates with fourteen while Ryan Jordan had nine points.

South Carolina takes their 10-0 record on the road to East Carolina for a game in Myrtle Beach on Sunday, before one last home non conference game against Elon next week before SEC conference play starts in the new year.   They certainly should have Wilson back by conference play.

By resting Wilson,  Staley has been able to reach into her bench and ten of her players played eight minutes or more last night.  That will give them experience heading into SEC games where four of the other teams are ranked; #8 Kentucky, #9 Mississippi State, #14 Tennessee and #18 Texas A&M.  Plus you have 10-0 Missouri, 9-1 Georgia, 9-1 Florida and 8-2 Vanderbilt waiting for the Gamecocks as well.

Hope Wilson has got a lot of rest.  She's going to need it come January.

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