Editor's note: "Behind enemy bylines" stories have typically been written only during football season. But The Daily Gamecock has decided to extend the series into the spring, previewing highly-anticipated matchups in other sports.
The No. 1 South Carolina women's basketball team will look to continue its undefeated start to the season when facing its toughest test of the year in No. 9 LSU on Thursday at 8 p.m.
The two teams last met on Feb. 12, 2023, when the Gamecocks earned an 88-64 victory over the Tigers. Both South Carolina and LSU went on to play in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, where the Tigers emerged victorious as national champions.
The Daily Gamecock spoke with Tyler Harden — the women's basketball beat writer at LSU's student newspaper, The Reveille — to learn more about LSU ahead of the highly anticipated top-10 matchup.
The Daily Gamecock: What are the overall impressions that you've gathered from LSU this season?
Tyler Harden: "Non-conference play not really much of a test, but I feel like the team really figured themselves a lot. I mean, obviously, (junior forward) Angel Reese, (junior guard) Aneesah Morrow are gonna be the priority to many teams, but it all came down to really consistency from everybody.
"This team hasn't played up to their full potential yet, and I feel like that's a scary thing when it comes to how well they have played already and there could still be more in the tank. It's definitely a team that is still growing, and it's gonna be a growing team until the final regular season game ... The potential for them — the sky's the limit."
The Tigers suffered a shock loss to unranked Auburn on Jan. 14. How has the team recovered since then?
"(The Auburn loss) was a big wakeup call, and I feel like it will serve the team well down the road that they're not, now that they've grown since day one, since game one, and they're not, there's just still not invincible yet.
"The players were motivated. They said, 'We're not gonna be outplayed like that ever again,’ and they feel like they haven't been, which is huge."
LSU heads into Thursday with the top offense in the country, averaging 91.7 points per game. What makes this offense so dangerous?
"It's such a versatile offense ... you have players like Angel Reese and Aneesah Morrow down low who can both have double-doubles.
"When you have that paired with a player like (freshman guard) Mikaylah Williams who can have four or five three's in a game, very few teams I feel like can stop that. When you contain one part of the offense, and the other one can catch fire at any moment, I feel like you're destined to be a top-10 team when you're able to do that with the players you have that can put up those types of stats."
Which players could be an X-factor against South Carolina?
"I think it'll be Mikaylah Williams ... Having her get hot early (against Arkansas on Sunday) was I feel like a huge thing for the team, just kinda of feeling like 'Yeah, this is gonna be the type of game it is. We're gonna be hitting shots, we're gonna be executing in all parts of the offense.'
"Saying that and having her be a true freshman is honestly kind of funny how she already has that type of pressure where she could be the swing factor for LSU against a team like South Carolina, but I feel like that's just the player she is. She's just kind of one of those players (that) as she gets older, she's gonna be one of those household names."
What are the stakes for LSU in this game?
"It might be the biggest test they face all season, and we're gonna really learn a lot about this team because there's gonna be other tests like this. They might meet Iowa in the NCAA tournament, or a team like NC State or Ohio State. Any team that's towards the top will have similar offenses, similar schemes that LSU does ... Against South Carolina, they're going to see that.
"We're really gonna see where this team is at as of right now. I know we might've been able to say that after the loss against Auburn, but this is a true test where players like (senior center) Kamilla Cardoso are gonna be players LSU might not really see down the line, so it'll be interesting to see how they respond to her and, overall, just how they really respond to South Carolina's more balanced attack."
Who wins, and what is your score prediction?
"Honestly, I have South Carolina, very close. I feel like it'll be a high-scoring game, somewhere up in the high 70s, low 80s for both teams.
"I'll go South Carolina 83-78."