The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: No. 1 South Carolina women's basketball overcomes adversity in win over No. 24 North Carolina

<p>FILE — Members of the South Carolina women's basketball team celebrate a 3-pointer shot during its game against Maryland on Nov. 12, 2023. The Gamecocks defeated the Testudos 114-76, and the team is currently undefeated.</p>
FILE — Members of the South Carolina women's basketball team celebrate a 3-pointer shot during its game against Maryland on Nov. 12, 2023. The Gamecocks defeated the Testudos 114-76, and the team is currently undefeated.

The No. 1 South Carolina women's basketball team relied on it's defense in it's 65-58 victory over No. 24 North Carolina Thursday night.

Early struggles against the Tar Heels' defense left the Gamecocks in an early deficit it had to overcome. 

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"I don't even think we got down to what we really do," head coach Dawn Staley said. "We just beared down and got the win, and it wasn't pretty, but we found a way to hit some big shots, hit some free throws, get some stops, so you know, sometimes it's gonna be like that."

South Carolina's struggles began immediately.

The Gamecocks opened the game by turning the ball over in it's first three possessions. Things did not get much better for the team, as it did not score until nearly five minutes into the first quarter.

The first half problems for the Gamecocks stemmed mainly from turnovers, turning the ball over eight times in the first half while trying to find a way through the Tar Heels' defense. The Gamecocks also lost the rebound battle on both sides of the ball in the first half, getting out-rebounded 26-18 by the Tar Heels.

The Gamecocks were able to create a late rhythm, closing in on the Tar Heels' lead. But it still went into halftime trailing its oppoenent 29-26. This is the first time all season that South Carolina has trailed heading into the half.

"First half kinda rough," Staley said. "I mean it's, we knew, we were prepping for the environment, and you really saw, you know, how young we are, like I didn't think we met the moment in the first half, and I thought we shot ourselves out a canon and just kind of played UNC's style, pace." 

The Gamecocks cleaned up its mistakes in the second half, now having less turnovers and winning the rebound battle. The team also became much more efficient on offense, shooting 44% from the field and 71% from the three, improving from its first half 34% from the field and 25% from the three in the first half.

Senior guard Te-Hina Paopao and sophomore forward Chloe Kitts led the way for the Gamecocks offensively in the second half, with the two combining for 20 of the Gamecocks' 39 second-half points.

Paopao proved to be a leader for the Gamecocks in the second half as she was the go-to player to lead the offense and kept the team composed.

"I think I'm one of the experienced guards on the team," Paopao said. "So I was able to keep them calm and just be able to keep the pace we had. I think we had way too many turnovers and just being able to tell the team like, 'Hey we got this,' like relax and just have the game come to us."

The Gamecocks defense proved to be the difference maker, despite the team's improvement in offense. South Carolina held North Carolina to 9/31 from the field in the second half. This defense drained momentum from the Tar Heels, allowing the Gamecocks to retake the lead midway through the third quarter. 

The Gamecocks stayed resilient once it grabbed the lead, keeping the pressure on defensively and answering back on offense whenever the Tar Heels would make a shot, ultimately holding on for the victory. This win marks the third time this season that the Gamecocks have defeated a ranked opponent. 

The No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks improve to 6-0 on the season and will stay in North Carolina to face the Duke Blue Devils (5-2) on Sunday, Dec. 3. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m., and the game will be broadcasted on ABC.


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