South Carolina women’s basketball (15-5, 7-1 SEC) defeated the No. 19 Kentucky Wildcats 74-70 in Lexington, Kentucky on Jan. 31 to remain in second place in the SEC standings.
The Gamecocks currently sit at No. 16 in the AP Poll and have won 11 of their last 12 games after starting the season 4-4. A big part of this span was an eight-game winning streak, including a win over then No. 21 Texas A&M on the road to start SEC play.
A major factor of South Carolina’s success in SEC play this season has been a change in the starting lineup. Senior Bianca Cuevas-Moore was placed into the starting lineup against Florida on Jan. 10. Since then, South Carolina’s offensive performance has shot up.
Prior to the Vanderbilt game on Jan. 28, the Gamecock offense’s points per game average increased from 61 to 75 since Cuevas-Moore became a starter. The field goal shooting percentage also increased from 37.2 to 46.5 percent.
“I’m feeling real good,” Cuevas-Moore said in an interview with Gamecocks Online. “I’m just going out there, playing hard and trying to do my best every night.”
South Carolina’s defense allowed 65 points per game in non-conference games, but this decreased to 60.5 points per game through the first six SEC games.
This year’s South Carolina team has been carried by its guard play, whereas past Gamecock teams under Dawn Staley have relied on post play.
Junior guard Te’a Cooper has led the Gamecocks in scoring a team-high 10 times so far this season.
Starting forwards Alexis Jennings and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan have both scored in double figures in four of the first seven SEC games.
“I’m very comfortable in my jump shot,” Herbert Harrigan said. “Even when I’m missing, just keep shooting because eventually it will fall.”
South Carolina’s only SEC loss came on the road to No. 7 Mississippi State on Jan. 17.
“This road loss helps us,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “It helps us in the RPI, helps us in strength of schedule. That’s what the playing in the SEC does.”
South Carolina and Mississippi State have a history of their own. The Gamecocks have defeated the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament Championship for the last three seasons, and the Gamecocks defeated the Bulldogs in the 2017 National Championship.
The two teams are fighting for the top seed in the SEC Tournament again this season, as the Gamecocks sit just one game behind the Bulldogs, who are 8-0 in the SEC.
Mississippi State is just one of the three currently ranked teams remaining on South Carolina’s schedule, as the Gamecocks will face off against No. 2 UConn on the road on Feb. 11 and No. 19 Kentucky on Feb. 21 at Colonial Life Arena.
South Carolina will end its regular season on March 3 at Colonial Life Arena against Mississippi State in a game that could determine the SEC regular season champion.
“We really can’t drop another game if we want to stay toe-to-toe with Mississippi State,” Staley said. “We can control us at least getting a share of the regular season, so we are going to take it one game at a time because if you look past one opponent, the one in front of you will sneak up and get you.”
South Carolina has already faced nine teams in the RPI top 50, and they currently sit at No. 20 in the RPI standings.
After the conclusion of the regular season, the SEC Women's Basketball Tournament is set to begin on March 6 at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina. The NCAA Tournament's first round games begin on March 22 and 23.