Skip to main content

Five (Not-So-Easy) Steps to Beating South Carolina in the Women’s NCAA Tournament

There’s a reason no one has been able to take down the Gamecocks this season ...

First, let’s be clear: There is no one in this bracket with a good chance of beating South Carolina.

There’s a reason no one has been able to do it yet this season. The undefeated Gamecocks dominate at just about everything. They lead the nation in a slew of statistics representing both ends of the floor. That includes Division I’s best offensive rating and best defensive rating, the highest average margin of victory and highest rebound rate, the most two-pointers made and most blocks. Remember the South Carolina squad that won it all last year? This version is somehow even better.

That means there’s no clear playbook to get past the Gamecocks. There’s a chance no one even gets close. But if someone were to do it … here’s what that might look like.

All statistics from Her Hoop Stats.

1. Slow it down

It’s not that this South Carolina team plays especially fast. (Its pace is slightly below average for D-I.) But the Gamecocks tend to be at their best when they can move a bit quicker, and, to the extent they have struggled at all this year, it’s been when the game has slowed down on them. Take a look at their three slowest paces of the year: Of the three games South Carolina has played that finished with 63 or fewer possessions per team per 40 minutes, all three were still within single digits at halftime, and one even required overtime. (If that doesn’t sound like much: Truly close games were few and far between for the Gamecocks!) It’s easier said than done, of course. Any team with the size and physical talent of South Carolina tends to set the pace itself. But to the extent that it’s possible? Setting the tempo as slow as possible is one way to gain an edge.

Watch March Madness games live with fuboTV. Start your free trial today!

2. Grab every offensive rebound possible

There shouldn’t be many defensive rebounds there for the taking. No team allowed its opponents fewer defensive boards this year than South Carolina. (That would be 18.9 per game for an opposing defensive rebound rate of 51.4%.) That effort is led by reigning National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston and 6'7" bench threat Kamilla Cardoso. But on the offensive glass? The Gamecocks still make it mighty difficult. Yet the situation is a little more navigable: South Carolina ranks merely ninth in the country in offensive rebound rate allowed for opponents. That’s still way, way, way too good for anyone to credibly call it a “weakness.” But it’s less of an obvious strength than most other features of this roster—and that makes it a logical place for an opponent to try to attack.

3. Ignore their depth at your own peril

Boston is a singular talent. Zia Cooke is a standout guard; Brea Beal offers some of the best perimeter defense in the country; Victaria Saxton brings serious length, consistency and drive; Kierra Fletcher needed no time at all to establish herself as a graduate transfer. It’s a fierce, multitalented starting five. Get a moment where all of them are off the floor? Great. You still have a hell of a lot to contend with. This bench is every bit as skilled as it is deep.

There’s the aforementioned Cardoso, who averages more than nine rebounds per game. There’s talented freshman guard Raven Johnson, shot-blocking machine Laeticia Amihere, skilled ballhandler Bree Hall, and on and on. All get serious playing time and are capable of serious damage to match. It’s an area where the Gamecocks stand out from their peers: Look at how many players on top-five teams average at least 10 minutes per game. No. 5 Stanford has nine, No. 4 Virginia Tech has seven, No. 3 Indiana has four, No. 2 Iowa has eight … and No. 1 South Carolina has 10. The Gamecocks’ depth makes them well-suited to adjusting on the fly and crossing potential roadblocks with ease. For opponents? It means any game plan has to truly be a plan for everyone.

4. Try to get Aliyah Boston in foul trouble

Boston’s list of skills is about as long as her wingspan. One not to be overlooked: She has terrific discipline. The forward is regularly double- (or triple-) teamed on offense and has tough, physical assignments on defense. Yet she almost never allows herself to foul. The senior averages just 1.5 fouls per game. On the rare occasion she does get in a bit of trouble? Even with all the previously aforementioned depth, South Carolina would still rather have its best player on the floor than not, and pressure here can only be a good thing for opponents. The one time she fouled out this year was South Carolina’s overtime win against Stanford; she had three fouls in both games against Georgia, both of which were close at halftime, and against Maryland. It’s not easy to do. (As a senior, Boston is as level-headed and perceptive as they come.) But anything that limits a talent like her is only good for an opponent.

5. Get really, really, really lucky

Let’s just say that an opponent does manage to slow the game down, to crash the boards, to neutralize the bench for the Gamecocks while still creating some foul trouble for starters like Boston. The odds are still stacked against them. That’s just how good South Carolina is. But if the opponent does all that and gets very lucky? Maybe it’ll have a chance.