After dominant displays in its first two NCAA tournament games, the No. 1 seed South Carolina women’s basketball team will face off against No. 5 seed North Carolina on Friday.
Head coach Dawn Staley said the team is excited for the opportunity to compete against a quality opponent in the Sweet 16.
“Our players are looking forward to some great competition against UNC, and we hope that it’s a packed house,” Staley said. “You’ll get — Friday night — two great games with four quality teams to represent our tournament.”
The Gamecocks have relied heavily on defense thus far in the tournament, allowing only 54 total points in victories over No. 16 Howard and No. 8 Miami. This mark broke the NCAA record for the fewest points allowed over a team’s first two tournament games.
Junior forward Aliyah Boston said communication has helped South Carolina develop into a strong, cohesive defensive unit.
“Every year, you just gotta continue to talk and make sure that you’re able to direct newcomers that are just coming into the system,” Boston said. “For the tournament, we know that defense is an important part — you need to be able to stop the other team from scoring — and so, we just take pride in that and making sure that we’re getting defensive stops.”
Despite South Carolina’s defensive presence, it has struggled to produce offensively, shooting a combined 46-140 (30.4%) in those tournament wins.
Staley said the team has worked on creating offensive rhythm in practice this week after its ability to create opportunities and break opposing defenses down showed signs of encouragement.
“We’re also just letting our players know, ‘You just gotta put the ball in the hole,’” Staley said. “We don’t want them gun-shy. We want them to be able to shoot the shots that they’ve actually taken and allow our rebounders to do their job.”
North Carolina heads into the matchup with two-double digit victories of their own — 79-66 in the first round over No. 12 Stephen F. Austin and 63-45 in the second over No. 4 Arizona.
Junior guard Zia Cooke said she expected the Tar Heels to play physically throughout the game.
“... I think they’re going to sag off us, so we definitely got to be able to get to our spots to where we know they’ll play us and just be ready for physical play — don’t foul them, don’t bail them out — and just attack them, just be physical with them the same way they’ll be with us,” Cooke said.
Staley said the Gamecock fanbase’s support will also be an important factor to help lead the team to success.
“South Carolina — it’s a state in which they love their own, and they’re going to show up to support their own,” Staley said. “And when you have the best talent in the state representing our program, they come, and they keep coming.”
South Carolina and North Carolina are set to tip off at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 25 at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex. The game will be broadcasted live on ESPN.