Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gamecocks' Balance, Size and Depth Too Much for Aggies

In the span of a little more than forty eight hours, Colonial Life Arena was the center of the men's and women's basketball universe and ESPN, with two games featuring #1 ranked, undefeated teams.  On Saturday at noon, the South Carolina men's team hosted #1 Kentucky in front of a sold out crowd of 18,000.   On Monday night, the #1 ranked South Carolina women's team hosted #12 Texas A&M.

On Saturday, The Wildcats were too much for the Gamecocks on Saturday.   Kentucky's size thwarted any inside play that South Carolina could muster and the Gamecocks outside shooting woes continued in a Wildcats 58-43 victory.

South Carolina fans were looking for revenge on Monday night and they again proved why the Gamecocks are #10 in the country in women's basketball attendance.  13,546 strong came out Monday night for the nationally televised ESPN game.   The lower bowl of the arena was completely full and the upper bowl was about 1/4 full.  It made for a loud and fun atmosphere, especially when you had Baseline Jesus running around the arena, pumping up the crowd.  The fans were eager to see their Gamecocks dominate the Aggies.

The Aggies however are one of the few teams that can match the size of Dawn Staley's Gamecocks, who have four players six foot four or taller; Alaina Coates, A'ja Wilson, Elem Ibiam and Jatarie White.   Texas A&M has a six foot seven center in junior Rachel Mitchell, a six foot five freshman in Khaalia Hillsman and six foot three Jada Terry.

Thus the Aggies were able to trade blows with the physical Gamecocks for the first twelve minutes. Hillsman hit a layup to put Texas A&M up 24-20.  The South Carolina fans were starting to get restless.

Then just like that, the Gamecocks came alive.  They went on a 14-0 run over the next four and half plus minutes.  It was sparked by the six foot four freshman guard Wilson.   Yes, Wilson is listed as a guard and she drives and runs the court like a guard.  Wilson had four points and an assist during that span.  Her assist on an Ibiam layup capped the run and put the Gamecocks up 34-24.

One possession late in the first half showed how difficult it is to match-up with South Carolina due to their size and relentlessness. Aleighsa Welch missed a short jumper.  Wilson grabbed the offensive rebound and missed the putback. Coates got the rebound and missed a putback.  Welch got the rebound and put it back in for a layup and a 39-29 lead.   I turned to my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew and said "Four for a quarter".

The Gamecocks would end up leading at halftime 39-31.   At halftime, the University celebrated all its 3.0 scholar athletes with a parade around the court of all the players on the teams with a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.    After the parade, there wasn't enough time left for the usual Cocky dance with the kids, since they couldn't assemble the kids that quickly after the parade.  Thus Cocky was left to dance with himself and you could dance in your seats with Cocky.  Matthew had no interest in dancing to the Chicken Dance in his seat.

The Gamecocks must have left their shooting touch in the locker room at halftime.  South Carolina failed to score a basket over nearly the first five and half minutes in the second half.   They only scored one point on a free throw over the first three minutes.

Meanwhile, Jordan Jones was going to work for the Aggies.   She scored five points during this span, including a three pointer to cut the Gamecocks lead to 40-38.   The South Carolina faithful starting getting antsy as the Gamecocks lead was being challenged.

South Carolina answered the bell.   Tiffany Mitchell was able to get to the foul line in the Gamecocks' next two possessions. She nailed all four free throws to put South Carolina up six, 44-38.  Mitchell then found Welch on a nice pass for a layup for the first basket for the Gamecocks in the second half.  Then Coates made two free throws to put South Carolina back up ten 48-38.

Courtney Walker would hit two jumpers in a row to get Texas A&M back within six, 48-42.  But after that, the Gamecocks clamped down on the Aggies.  Over the span of the next six and a half minutes, South Carolina held Texas A&M to two free throws and a layup.  Meanwhile, the Gamecocks did a great job of sharing the basketball, with assists on four baskets during the span.  The small but feisty point guard Bianca Cuevas capped the the 19-4 Gamecocks' run with a layup to put South Carolina up 67-46 with 6:46 left in the game.

From there, Texas A&M had no choice to try to slow the game down by fouling.  Ten of the last twelve Gamecocks points came on free throws.  Despite slowing the game down, the Aggies could not get any closer than eighteen points the rest of the way.  And that was the final score margin as South Carolina won convincingly 79-61.

The Aggies were held to thirty eight percent from the field and they were fortunate they shot that well.   Texas A&M's second leading scorer on the season, Courtney Williams was 3 for 21 from the field.   The Aggies leading scorer on the season, Courtney Walker,  was held four points under her season average of fourteen.   South Carolina out-rebounded Texas A&M 43-29.

The Gamecocks shot forty nine percent from the field and eighty percent from the line (24 of 30).  Four players scored in double figures for South Carolina;  Wilson led the way off the bench with eighteen points and nearly had a double double as she grabbed nine rebounds.  Mitchell added sixteen points.  Coates had a double double with twelve points and eleven rebounds and Welch added twelve points and seven rebounds.

Unlike Saturday, the Gamecock crowd went home happy.  Their #1 team again showed their dominance against a very good SEC opponent.  A lot of talk around the college basketball world is whether the Kentucky men's team can go through the season undefeated or at least through the SEC conference.

After last night's performance at Colonial Life Arena, I expect the same talk to pick up about the South Carolina women's team.

Yes, they're that dominant.

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