It was billed as the biggest matchup thus far of the college basketball season, number one ranked South Carolina Gamecocks traveled to Connecticut to face the number two ranked Connecticut Huskies. Many pundits expected this to be a very close game between two elite teams, most didn’t believe this Uconn team is as tough as the prior year, even though they are the reigning champs. South Carolina boasts one of the most talented and tall rosters in the country, having a second unit that could field a starting five for different programs. It was a close game through the first seven and a half minutes, then, Uconn did what they do best. Create separation. Connecticut did it on the defensive end, which ignited their offense and they never looked back. The Huskies would go on to rout the Gamecocks 87-62, several players played a huge role in the win.
South Carolina came into the game 22-0 on the year while Uconn came in at 22-1.Dawn Staley took over the Gamecock program several years ago and has built it into a power from the ground up. She built South Carolina in her image, a strong, tough nosed team that didn’t know how to back down.
Uconn led 18-15 early on, neither them or the Gamecocks could seize control of the game. Moriah Jefferson was the catalyst, she’s often forgotten in the Uconn hierarchy. Not tonight, she did it by being assertive. She was able to break down her defender, get in the lane and cause trouble for South Carolina. She wasn’t driving to score, but she was able to drive and kick, finding Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis for a few three pointers that blew the game open. Her on-ball defense forced the Gamecocks to initiate their offense further out than they planned, it also gave her teammates in the post less time to fight with the bigger South Carolina forwards.
It was clear that Uconn planned to take away the ‘others’ for the Gamecocks, Tiffany Mitchell was able to get hers but she didn’t have much help. Mitchell finished the game with 17 points on 50% shooting, she was one of just three players that shot that well. The Gamecocks shot just 39.4% from the floor, many of their possessions resulted in contested shots. Aleighsa Welch also had a good night, scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. While South Carolina was able to out-rebound Connecticut, they turned the ball over a whopping 17 times. Something that just can’t happen against one of the top teams in the nation.
KML had a great night shooting the ball, the three point specialist cashed out on five of six of her attempts from deep. Her biggest contribution may of been on the defensive end, she racked up four steals. Jefferson was amazing, running the show and even collecting a couple of highlights on her way to breaking down several defenders. She finished the game with 16 points, six assists, and just one turnover.
Morgan Tuck and Breanna Stewart were huge for Uconn, the post duo played 35 and 37 minutes respectively. They did a great job of altering shots and protecting the rim. They combined for 14 rebounds on the night, Steward (8 boards) was dominant in rim protection, turning away five shots on the night and altering countless others. Tuck was involved early on and remained a constant force on both ends of the floor.
‘Stewie’ showed her amazing versatility, easily displaying why she’s arguably the best player in the country. Along with her eight rebounds and five blocks, she scored 22 points. She did most of her damage in the post, which was impressive considering the size South Carolina has. Stewie was incredibly patient in the post, selling each and every fake until she was able to finally catch the defender off balance.
The Huskies should be named number one next week, they have a game against Tulane on the horizon. They are averaging a 50 point margin of victory in conference play.
South Carolina will be facing LSU later this week in SEC conference play, there is no reason for them to hang their heads. They got great experience playing in a hostile environment. This team will be a factor in how this season ends, expect to see them in the final four. Who knows, might even get their rematch with Connecticut!