Could No. 1 South Carolina WBB go undefeated in 2022-23?

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, left, talks with forward Aliyah Boston (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, on Feb. 9, 2023, in Auburn, Ala.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, left, talks with forward Aliyah Boston (4) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Auburn, on Feb. 9, 2023, in Auburn, Ala.


No. 1 South Carolina made its goals clear to start the season: Win the SEC, repeat as national champions.

But now, there’s a chance to accomplish an unplanned feat: an undefeated season.

Only nine undefeated seasons have occurred in the NCAA tournament era, which began with the 1981-82 campaign. UConn’s done it six times, and Baylor, Tennessee and Texas account for the other three.

“I think it just materialized,” head coach Dawn Staley said of the Gamecocks’ record. “I think we don’t really look that far ahead. We just stay current.”

Win anyways

The Gamecocks have faced teams with shooters, teams with size and teams with quick guards. They’ve played in packed stadiums with thousands of fans, and also in smaller venues with more intimate atmospheres.

And so far, in those 27 different variations of games, they’ve yielded a successful result.

USC’s height advantage creates mismatches for almost every opponent. Ten of the 14 players on the roster are 6-foot or taller.

South Carolina has a 33.5-point winning margin, but five games have been decided by fewer than 10 points. Two of those were conference games, including its most recent 64-57 overtime road win against Ole Miss on Sunday.

Stanford led USC by 10 going into the fourth quarter of the team’s November matchup and by six points with 2:04 remaining in regulation. But clutch shooting allowed the Gamecocks to escape the Cardinal in overtime.

UCLA came to Colonial Life Arena in the same month looking to knock off USC. The game was tied at the start of the fourth quarter, but South Carolina’s height advantage proved to be too much down the stretch.

Mississippi State tested USC in January and eventually lost by seven points. Against UConn, the team wiped away an 11-point hole in the first quarter to win by four. The Rebels never trailed by double-digits on Sunday — and even took a quick lead toward the end of regulation — but could not take advantage of the extra five minutes.

University of South Carolina athletic teams have had three undefeated regular seasons: men’s tennis (1968) and women’s swimming (1980, 1985).

After victories over some of women’s college basketball’s elite and getting challenged on numerous occasions, a regular-season loss for South Carolina has looked more and more implausible as the weeks continue.

“I just want us to finish strong,” Staley said. “I want us to, I’ve said it like a broken record, keep the habits we’ve formed. We’ve been playing a certain way all season long and we have been progressing.”

The schedule ahead

South Carolina has a challenging game against Tennessee later this week, but UT has yet to defeat a ranked opponent this season. Kellie Harper’s team has the home-court advantage and a talented roster, but a win against USC would require the Lady Volunteers to put all of it together in one swing.

The Gamecocks’ last remaining game before the SEC tournament is against Georgia — a team that played a competitive game for three quarters in their January meeting but ultimately lost by 17.

If USC wins its last two regular-season games, accomplishing its goal of winning a national title could very well correlate with becoming college women’s basketball’s 10th undefeated championship team ever.

The SEC tournament’s outcome wouldn’t likely impact the team’s standing for the NCAA tournament. If the Gamecocks (27-0) carry their winning streak to Selection Sunday, though, it has a shot at a historical run.

South Carolina has the experience to pull it off. Its 2019 recruiting class has served as the foundation of the now-undefeated and reigning champion Gamecocks. Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Brea Beal have been starters since arriving in Columbia, and they’ve lost just eight games since their first season.

“Their freshman year ended abruptly (due to the COVID-19 outbreak), and then the following year ended in such a dramatic, sad way,” Staley said. “And then they came back last year, played under the gun, just in a pressurized year all season long. And they got to the mountaintop and won. They’ve seen it all.”

Talented teams remain in the tournament field, some of which South Carolina hasn’t faced this year.

But with the best scoring defense in the nation and an offense averaging more than 80 points per game, USC can take a reasonable shot at immortality.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

Jeremiah Holloway covers South Carolina women’s basketball and football for The State. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, he is from Greensboro, N.C. and an avid basketball fan. Holloway joined The State in August 2022.

Source link

Leave a Comment