In a game that was, simply put, over before it even started, the #1 South Carolina Gamecocks (20-1, 8-0) came out of the gate a little slow on offense, only tallying about seven points in the first five minutes of the game.
Yet, they responded quickly, and by halftime rallied up 32 points.
The part that didn’t start slow? The Gamecocks’ smothering defense, who held the Rebels to just two points in the ENTIRE first half.
Best start since 2015-16? ✅— GamecockWBB (@GamecockWBB) January 31, 2020
Tie the program record for fewest points allowed in SEC play? ✅@_Theblackqueen_ finished with a game high 16 points#SCWomanUp pic.twitter.com/jMbdnF1Vew
The most impressive part was the smart defensive play of the Gamecocks, holding their opponents to just 5% scoring while only giving up 20 shot attempts without a single foul.
The defensive performance of the Gamecocks was so stellar that the Rebels didn’t successfully convert a basket until a breakaway layup with 55 seconds left in the first half, after they had already dug themselves a 29 point hole.
Putting in that defensive work all night 💪#SCWomanUp— GamecockWBB (@GamecockWBB) January 31, 2020
📰 https://t.co/NnolCOke3J pic.twitter.com/1GOKuvSGdO
The second half wasn’t much better for the Rebels once the Gamecocks began hitting their offensive stride.
By the conclusion of the game, the Gamecocks had raised their 43% scoring percentage from the first half to 53%.
Freshman Leticia Amihere became the leading scorer with sixteen points, while the starting five were benched very early in the third quarter.
Amihere played 22 minutes – second on the team and equal to, if not exceeding, four of the five starters.
With the starters taking most of the second half off, the Gamecocks were able to get all six bench players onto the court to log playing time and add to the score.
While the bench players didn’t match the 5% scoring allowed in the first half, allowing The Rebels to shoot 40% and put up 30 points, their performance was good enough to increase the Gamecocks’ lead to 55 points by the final buzzer.
Simply put, Ole Miss was outmatched and undermanned, and this game was little more than an extra practice and good warm-up to prepare Coach Staley’s team for the upcoming mountain they will have to climb on Sunday.
That Mountain? The #22 Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
Looking forward to Tennessee (17-4, 7-1), the Gamecocks will have to put in a lot more work to climb the mountain to victory: a mountain that the Gamecocks have only climbed seven times in 55 tries and only twice in 23 tries at home.
The Lady Volunteers – under first year coach Kellie Harper – are exceeding expectations this year, as they have already matched last year’s win total in the SEC and are only two wins away from matching the overall win total from the 2018-19 campaign.
Charlie Creme’s current bracketology has the Lady Vols as a #8 seed in the Fort Wayne regional, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team work their way into a top four seed by the end of the season.
The Lady Vols’ talent is not to be slept on. Junior Rennia Davis sits in the top five in the SEC in points per game, while both Freshman Jordan Horston and Sophomore Jazmine Massengill sit in the top five in assists in the SEC.
Freshman Tamari Key is tied with Aliyah Boston at first in the SEC with 2.8 blocks per game.
The Lady Vols are a team that is very young, very talented, and very motivated to make sure Coach Harper checks all the boxes in her first year, especially after leading their game against UCONN last week and letting the win slip through their fingers.
Tennessee is a team that shoots well, and a close score late in the game only favors them as they shoot nearly 72% at the free throw line and have nearly a 49% FG percentage.
Let’s not forget that this is a team who already has one buzzer beating victory under their belt.
The Lady Gamecocks are going to have to come out firing on all cylinders and build a strong lead as they always do.
But, more importantly, they will have to compete hard to keep that lead and maintain it for all four quarters.
If they fall into a similar pattern as the Mississippi State game, they will be playing right into Big Orange’s style and, most likely, game plan.
Coach Staley’s squad is going to have to stay poised as always to continue their pattern of building very strong leads at home in the first quarter against a Volunteer team that only allows their opponents a .312 field goal percentage – a percentage good enough for second best in the country and first in the SEC.
This may be the toughest test this season for the Gamecocks yet, as they must stay focused for a fight knowing that just on the horizon awaits a team they have never beaten: the University of Connecticut Huskies.
Grab your tickets Gamecock Faithful and head to the Colonial Life Arena on Sunday for what is sure to most likely be a very low scoring yet exciting boxing match that will go to the team who plays four complete quarters and can weather the blows of the opposition.
Don’t be surprised to see this one up for grabs in the final minutes as it will surely be the SEC game of the year.