The No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball team emphasized turnovers and second-chance points in its 78-38 victory over South Dakota State Monday night.
The Gamecocks struggled in the opening minutes of play with a newly adjusted lineup. With senior guard Te-Hina Paopao out due to injury, South Carolina lacked leadership and efficiency on the offensive side of the ball.
Head coach Dawn Staley said the lineup change had an effect on the whole team.
"We’re young,” Staley said. “We put a different lineup in, and sometimes when you change one player, it has an affect on it.”
South Dakota State kept it close in the first quarter with relentless, aggressive play. The Jackrabbits trailed only 17-13 after the first quarter, despite several scoring runs from the Gamecocks, and displayed its physicality by posting 10 of its 13 points in the paint.
South Carolina, which has been consistent on offense throughout its young campaign, started less than lackluster in shooting. The Gamecocks were 8-28 on field goal attempts and 0-5 from behind the arc in the first quarter, which was one of its least productive 10-minute stretches of the season.
“It just took us a little while to get going,” Staley said. “I think part of it is, as much as we have prepped, they're not going to guard us. People bit the bullet and wanted to shoot ill-advised shots and early shots.”
South Carolina's field goal percentage improved during the second quarter with a 7-17 shooting display. The Gamecocks finished the half with a more comfortable lead of 36-22 as a result.
Production on both sides of the ball was supported by senior center Kamilla Cardoso, who finished the half with 16 points, six rebounds and one steal. She matched South Dakota State's inside presence by putting up consistent points in the paint.
“We want Kamilla to get off to a dominating start,” Staley said. “Not let the game come to her, (but) take the game to the game. I thought she tried, and I thought we did a great job of just forcing her to take shots and getting the ball to her and her just being dominant."
The Gamecocks took advantage of the Jackrabbits' turnovers in the second half and turned them into points. South Carolina began to build upon its lead by tallying 15 fast break points over the final two quarters of the game.
Junior guard Raven Johnson led the way with 6 points in the third quarter, all of which were scored off steals. The Gamecocks took advantage of five turnovers from the Jackrabbits, and its improved shooting allowed the team to strengthen its lead to 25 by the end of the period. Johnson finished the game with single-game career-highs in points, 18, along with five steals.
The Gamecocks relied heavily on defense when the offense was not clicking as usual. Sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins, who leads the country in blocks per game, supported South Carolina's defensive efforts with three more blocks.
“I feel like nobody can score on me, honestly,” Watkins said. “I make it really hard, I feel like, because I'm just active on defense.”
Despite going 0-12 behind the 3-point line over the course of 40 minutes, South Carolina continued to add to its advantage in the fourth quarter. The Gamecock defense held the Jackrabbits to a mere 6 points in the quarter, while its offense went on a 16-0 run over the final eight minutes of the game.
South Dakota State became the first team to keep the Gamecocks out of a triple-digit final score this season, but it ultimately it wasn’t enough to prevent South Carolina from taking a decisive 40-point win due to the home team's defensive prowess.
“When our offense is not on, we've got to rely on defense,” Johnson said. “Defense wins championships.”
The No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (4-0) will take on Mississippi Valley State (1-4) in Colonial Life Arena on Friday, Nov. 24. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on SECN+.