The South Carolina women's basketball team defeated Howard University 79-21 in its NCAA tournament first-round match. A combination of strong paint play and lockdown defense led to the lopsided outcome.
While the Gamecocks only ended up shooting 8-38 from three on the night, its 38 points in the paint and 69-28 rebounding lead were instrumental in keeping the offense rolling all game long.
“I don’t think they took bad shots,” Head coach Dawn Staley said. “They rely heavily on just taking that outside shot, and when we start working the ball around and giving our post players some looks, it really helped balance things out.”
The offensive rebounding was key in mitigating the poor shooting night. The Gamecocks had more offensive rebounds (30) than Howard had rebounds total (28), displaying its control on the offensive side. This hustle play displayed by the Gamecocks was vital in not only building a lead offensively but also staying strong defensively.
“We were pretty locked in with what we prep for,” Staley said. "I thought we made a concerted effort to get the 50-50 balls and the loose balls. That is something that's been on our radar for quite some time. I thought we won that department … we want to make sure that if we're not shooting the ball extremely well, we’re getting ourselves in a position to get a lot more possessions.”
Junior forward Aliyah Boston was a huge contributor to the strong paint play on both sides, as she continued her streak and now has 25 consecutive double-doubles. She ended the game with an all-around stat line of 10 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals.
Keeping in tune with its offensive dominance, South Carolina’s defense was top-notch all throughout. In the first two quarters, it was able to hold Howard to 2 points each, for 4 points total at the half. For the game, it held Howard down to 21 points, with most of Howard’s points coming in the fourth quarter.
Despite this late scoring burst from Howard, the Gamecocks bench unit came to play and kept pace with the lead the starters built. It brought lots of energy to the crowd even as the clock neared the end in the fourth quarter. The bench unit scored 43 bench points for the night, more than double Howard’s total for the game.
"I thought they played extremely well,” Staley said. “The last five on the floor shared the ball, worked inside out, and it was good for them to play some extended minutes and do some good things out there for us.”
The Gamecocks lead 44-4 at the half but despite the huge lead, the team kept playing with energy so as to not repeat any previous late-game errors.
“Just doing what we need to do, keeping our foot on the gas, don't let nothing up,” graduate guard Lele Grissett said. “We just gotta play our game, no matter what the score is.”
Freshman guard Bree Hall noted how the team has been working hard to make sure it doesn't repeat the shortcomings the team has experienced in recent fourth quarters.
With this win, South Carolina advances to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The team's next match will be against Miami on Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Colonial Life Arena.