So here we are: the point in the season that every Gamecock women’s basketball fan anxiously awaits.
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The point where the next opponent is not just another game, but the measuring stick that the rest of the season will be compared to.
The point where the whole nation is watching and determines if you’re a pretender or a contender. The point where Goliath meets Goliath, and we all know where we stand when the dust settles.
You can call it a thousand things or phrase it a thousand more ways, but the easiest way? It’s the UCONN vs. USC game.
For the sixth consecutive year and ninth time in program history, South Carolina will meet UCONN on the hardwood, hoping to do something it has yet to do: come away with a victory over the Huskies.
South Carolina is 0-8 against the natives of Storrs, Connecticut, with every loss being of double digit category and coming at an average of 25.9 points.
The closest that Coach Staley’s squad has come to a win in the rivalry game was in 2017, where the game was only lost by eleven points, and in 2019, where the Gamecocks led the Huskies for the first time after the first quarter.
In the past five years, Dawn Staley has worked extremely hard to close the gap between the two programs, revving up recruiting by bringing in legend A’ja Wilson and this year’s number one recruiting class in the nation, and winning her first national title in 2017.
Gamecock fans, the gap is closing.
Geno Auriemma’s time at UCONN is coming to an end, and the average fan can see it. Last year’s recruiting class was unranked, and he has stepped down as Team USA’s Head Coach, which to the common eye appears as if Geno is cutting back and limiting his responsibilities.
At this point, no one would really blame the 11-time national championship and 1,000 win club coach if he did choose to retire, as the gap between the Huskies and their rivals is closing fast.
The Huskies are coming into this game 20-2, with both losses coming to top ten opponents in #6 Baylor and #4 Oregon.
In fact, UCONN has a three game losing streak against top ten opponents with their last top ten win coming March 31, 2019 against #5 Louisville in the 2019 Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament.
In twenty-two of the games played this year by UCONN, only four of the opponents in that mix were ranked, and the Huskies went 2-2 beating the #16 DePaul Blue Demons and the #23 Tennessee Lady Vols.
Even though they won both games, the Huskies did not look like the same team we are used to seeing as they only beat DePaul by ten and they trailed the Vols at halftime, two things that UCONN usually never does as they are known to dominate and have the game won by halftime.
Statistically speaking, Geno Auriemma’s squad isn’t as sharp as they usually are either.
The Huskies are averaging 78.4 PPG and are 179th in the country at the free throw line (.687), an average well below the usual and an unusually low percentage at the line where everything usually was so automatic.
The Huskies also have only tallied 107 blocks on the season (4.9 a game), a number which is surprisingly low for a team who has 9 of their 11 roster spots filled by players 5’11 or taller.
In fact, on average the Huskies tend to outsize almost all of the teams they play, yet they are 13th in the nation on Rebounds per game at 43.4 rebounds with 17.6 of those rebounds a game come from just 2 players.
For a team that has prided itself the past decade on being the bully and throwing their opponents around and having their way, when the games really mattered they haven’t seemed to be able to do that.
The 2019-2020 edition of the Huskies is not the same team they’ve been. This team will more then likely be the underdog when it steps onto the court at Colonial Life Arena for the first time in rivalry history as Dawn Staley’s team is having one of their, statistically speaking, best years and UCONN just hasn’t look like themselves.
When you look at the numbers, SC is averaging more PPG (83.4), allowing a lower FG% from opponents (.332), is first in the Nation in Blocks (192) and Blocks per game (8.3), and is averaging more rebounds per game (47.5) then Geno’s Huskies.
They also have the Huskies beat in free throw percentage (.695) and percentage of shots blocked (.051).
The only place, statistically, the Gamecocks are beat at is FG%, but only by .9%, and at 3 PT% by 3.3%.
Also the Gamecocks are only allowing 56.3 PPG to UCONN’s 54.6 PPG, a small 1.7 point difference. When you look at how close these statistics are and see how similar they seem to be, the most telling but decisive factor may be the strength of schedules of the two.
SC’s comes in at 15 and UCONN’s clocks in at 47. South Carolina’s opponents on average have been tougher, as SC has played nine ranked opponents (8-1) to UCONN’s four (2-2).
When you look at that and think about the numbers that SC has put up, it really is crazy to see any scenario where the Gamecocks won’t be favored on Big Monday.
So what do Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks have to do to win on Monday for the first time ever against the Huskies?
Just Play The 2020 UCONN Huskies
Following Thursday’s game Coach Staley was asked how her team was going to gameplan and come out of Monday’s game with a victory and her answer was simple: “ Just play UCONN. Don’t play their 11 national championships, don’t play their streaks, and the hype, just play UCONN”.
Couldn’t have said it better myself Dawn.
The formula for beating the Huskies is easier said than done but is actually very simple.
The past couple of years, the teams that have taken Geno’s ladies to the limit and beaten them are the teams that have come out the gate scoring with a strong belief that they belong on that stage and can win the game.
This year’s Huskie team has only ten players on the roster compared to the Gamecocks 12, but only eight of them log more then ten minutes per game, compared to SC’s nine players who have averaged more than 13+ mins a game.
This year’s USC team has more depth than the Huskies and experienced depth at that, as it seems as if on any given day any of the players could get hot and have a 20 point day.
In fact, only four Huskies average seven PPG or more to SC’s five.
If the Gamecocks can come out the gate hot as they always do and stick with the Huskies, they can wear out the starters and force Geno to go to his bench.
If this happens, the advantage shifts to the South Carolina bench as Dawn has a bench deep enough to sub in and out all game long and get quality minutes and points from each one.
Geno doesn’t have that and the longer South Carolina puts UCONN in the corner and pressures them to keep the starters on the court to win, the better chance the Gamecocks have to finally get the last notch in Dawn Staley’s belt.
This year will be the best chance South Carolina has had to finally get the Huskie sized monkey off their back and show the world that South Carolina isn’t just here for a while, they are here for a long time.
South Carolina will have to play their best game ever, defending the three point line where UCONN makes their money and win the battle of the trenches.
If South Carolina denies the three, wins in the paint and just plays their game avoiding the hype, USC will have its biggest regular season win in program history and the changing of the guard will officially begin, as the throne at the top of the mountain may become available for the taking.