Monday, January 11, 2016

South Carolina's Strong Defensive Start Dooms Missouri

The #20 Missouri Tigers had to be telling themselves yesterday, "If we can come out strong against South Carolina, we've got a chance to win."   In the Gamecocks last several games, especially against SEC conference foes Arkansas and Vanderbilt, #2 South Carolina struggled out of the gate.  Against the Razorbacks, the Gamecocks were tied at nine after one quarter.  Against the Commodores, the Gamecocks were tied at halftime and were losing late in the third quarter before rallying to win.

So it only seemed natural for the Tigers to feel a strong start would go a long way.  During warm-ups, my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, noted that Missouri seemed to have a lot of players practicing, more than South Carolina (two bench players have the left the Gamecocks in the last week, leaving them with eleven players, still plenty given their talent).   Matthew and I would find out within a few minutes of game action why that was the case.

As for the Tigers hoping for a sluggish start from their opponent, too bad Dawn Staley had her Gamecocks ready from the get go.

The home crowd of 15,934 that packed Colonial Life Arena yesterday seemed to pump life into South Carolina from tip-off.   The Gamecocks height and athleticism on defense frustrated the Tigers immediately in the first quarter.  In the first seven and a half minutes of the first quarter, Missouri missed all thirteen shots from the field and turned the ball over four times.

Meanwhile, it was obvious what Missouri's game plan was on defense.  Physical defense that would have made Bruiser Flint proud.  They picked up seven fouls in the first five and half plus minutes in the game.  My color analyst, aka my older son Matthew, commented that we were going to see at least one Missouri player foul out and noted "So that's why they have so many players!"

Meanwhile, South Carolina was able to slog their way through Missouri's physical play to score enough points to make a difference early on.  Alaina Coates hit a three point play to put the Gamecocks up to stay 3-0.  Neither team would score for the next three plus minutes as the Gamecocks missed on five straight shots. Finally,  Khadijah Sessions would score on four free throws, sandwiching a three point play by Tiffany Mitchell and a free throw from Alaina Coates.  South Carolina was up 11-0 with four plus minutes left in the first quarter.

During this time, Missouri Freshman Sophie Cunningham "enamored" herself with the Gamecocks fans due to her physical play, especially one fan behind us in Section 115.  That fan kept yelling at the top of her lungs "SOOOPHIE!", among other things.

Missouri finally made a basket from Kayla Robinson nearly eight minutes into the first quarter. At the end of the first quarter, the score was 17-5.

The Tigers came out scoring in the second quarter with five quick points, including a three pointer by Maddie Stock to cut the lead to ten, 20-10.   But the Gamecocks would respond with a 13-2 run over the next nearly five minutes. Mitchell would lead the way, scoring six of those thirteen points.  Her two free throws would cap the run and make the score 33-12.   South Carolina would end up leading at halftime 35-17.  Missouri almost had as many fouls, SIXTEEN, as points, seventeen.

The start of the second half saw Missouri come out strong from the locker room.   The Tigers outscored the Gamecocks 12-4 over the first minute and a half.  Sophie Cunningham continued to ingratiate herself with the Gamecock faithful, scoring a basket to cut the lead to ten 39-29.

After a Coates basket that put South Carolina up twelve, Mitchell took over from there.  She scored the next seven straight points; a layup assisted by Tina Roy, a three pointer again assisted by Roy and then finally, she took matters in her own hands.  Mitchell stole the ball and drove in for a layup.  The Gamecocks were back up nineteen 48-29 and the game was over for all intensive purposes.

Except for the fan that was "enamored" with Sophie Cunningham.  Sophie would pick up her third foul midway through the third quarter, which ended with South Carolina up 56-34.  In the fourth quarter, she would quickly pick up fouls four and five which resulted in our fan yelling "BYE SOPHIE!!"

As Matt had predicted, a Missouri player fouled out.  In fact, two fouled out, as Jordan Frericks fouled out later.  Missouri would use THIRTEEN players in the game, as the entire team picked up thirty four fouls.  South Carolina took full advantage, hitting on thirty two of their forty three free throw attempts in the 83-58 drubbing of Missouri.

Mitchell led all scorers with nineteen points, shooting eight of nine from the free throw line. Coates and Wilson each had double doubles.  Coates had thirteen points and twelve rebounds, while Wilson had eleven points, eleven rebounds and six blocks.  Jatarie White came off the bench for the Gamecocks and added eleven points.
Missouri was held to thirty one percent from the field, including four of twenty one from beyond the arc, as South Carolina's overall team height and quickness were too much for the Tigers.  Only Ciera Porter was in double figures scoring for Missouri with ten points.

With the win, the Gamecocks are now 15-0 on the season and have matched the #22 undefeated men's team in record.   Both teams are now a combined 30-0 on the season, a truly remarkable fact given conference play for men's and women's basketball is already a week old.

The schedule doesn't get any easier for South Carolina.  They play another two ranked teams in a row.  First, a road match-up with #10 Kentucky and then a home game vs. #13 Texas A&M.  

But if they come out and play defense as well as they did against #20 Missouri, it won't matter who they play. The Gamecocks look primed for another SEC conference championship.

A strong start always helps.

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