The Daily Gamecock

Three keys: South Carolina-Notre Dame


When South Carolina faces Notre Dame in the Final Four on Sunday, it will be the biggest game in program history. Of course, the same could've been said of South Carolina’s past few games, as the Gamecocks have continued to survive throughout a competitive NCAA tournament.

Now just one win shy from a national championship game appearance, South Carolina faces an extremely talented Notre Dame team.

Playing an opponent as talented as Notre Dame means that there’s little room for error against the Fighting Irish. Here’s a look at three things South Carolina must do in order to be victorious Sunday.

1. Get off to a fast start

Performing out of character, South Carolina struggled in the early portions of its wins against fourth-seeded North Carolina and second-seeded Florida State last weekend.

The Gamecocks struggled out of the gate against the Tar Heels, trailing 8-0 before eventually leading at halftime. Meanwhile, Florida State led at the half against South Carolina and was up by as many as 10 points at one point.

Slow starts like the ones it experienced in Greensboro may not fly against Notre Dame.

Unlike North Carolina and Florida State, Notre Dame has the talent, focus and experience to use an opponent's bad start to its advantage over the course of a game.

While games aren’t necessarily won in the first 10 minutes or so, they can certainly be lost.

“For us, I think we let our team know that we got off to two slow starts and I think we’ve had to make adjustments to how teams are playing us,” Staley said. “So we have that [to] reflect on and hopefully we’ll use it to our advantage and get off to a better start.”

2. Use its size to its advantage

Few teams across the country have the skill, size and depth of South Carolina's post players.

When the Gamecocks start games off, it’s senior forward Aleighsa Welch and senior center Elem Ibiam who get to play. While both of those players bring a lot to the table, they’re far from the only Gamecocks who can score near the basket, as sophomore center Alaina Coates and freshman guard/forward A’ja Wilson have made clear.

Overall, South Carolina has five forwards or centers who are at least 6’0", and the Gamecocks’ length helps them on both offense and defense.

South Carolina shoots an impressive 48.5 percent from the field, and a lot of that has to deal with the easy looks it gets at the basket.

On the other end of the court, opponents are shooting only 34.7 percent against the Gamecocks, which is partially a result of their size and length in the paint.

Notre Dame certainly presents its fair share of challenges to South Carolina, but the Fighting Irish don’t match up well with the Gamecocks in terms of talent and physicality down low.

Because of this, South Carolina has an opportunity to exploit Notre Dame on the inside.

Coates was named the Greensboro Regional’s Most Outstanding Player after a great weekend in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, and Notre Dame could struggle to guard her if she keeps up that level of play.

3. Get Mitchell going early on

Although she’s a bit reserved and shy when it comes to speaking about how talented she is on the court, South Carolina junior shooting guard Tiffany Mitchell knows how big of a role she has on offense for the Gamecocks.

That showed when put in the game-winning layup against North Carolina in the Sweet 16 and when she took over late in the game against Florida State.

Staley has called Mitchell South Carolina’s “Superwoman” and she may not be exaggerating too much.

Despite playing on a team full of talent, Mitchell still averages 14.5 points per game, while also excelling as tough defender on the other end of the court.

Because of this, Mitchell earned first-team All-America honors earlier this week, adding another prize to an already-crowded trophy case.

Needless to say, South Carolina is only at its best when Mitchell is at her best and another impressive performance by the Charlotte, North Carolina-native would go a long way in helping South Carolina defeat Notre Dame.

If Mitchell can get in the flow of things from the opening minutes, she could be poised to have another big-time postseason outing.