The No. 1 South Carolina women’s basketball team picked up its sixth victory over a ranked opponent on Sunday with an 83-65 win over No. 11 Connecticut at Colonial Life Arena.
The victory marked the Gamecocks’ fourth straight win over the Huskies in the two teams’ all-time series, and it was defined by South Carolina's prowess on both ends of the court.
Both teams began the game with slow starts on offense. Throughout the opening 10 minutes, South Carolina shot just 36.8% (7-19) from the floor, while the Huskies shot 26.3% (5-19).
The Gamecocks’ defense was on full display, as it held UConn to just 11 points in the first quarter. It was especially effective toward the end of the quarter, when it suppressed the Huskies' offense in a three-minute scoring drought that extended into the second quarter.
While its defense held firm, South Carolina’s offense came to life in the second quarter, outscoring UConn 25-19 to enter halftime with a 14-point lead. The Gamecocks opened the quarter with a 14-7 scoring run to push its lead into double digits and established its dominance on the glass, out-rebounding UConn 13-8.
Most of South Carolina’s offensive contributions from the first half came from senior guard Te-Hina Paopao, who hit two 3-point shots to build the team’s advantage. She finished the half with 16 points on 6-9 shooting, including 4-5 on attempts beyond the arc.
Paopao said trusting her teammates helped increase her own confidence as she continued making shots throughout the game.
"The last couple games haven't been very well shooting-wise, but they know they're going to find me, and I'm going to knock it down for them," Paopao said. "Just the confidence in me knowing that I'm going to knock it down and just keep shooting the ball until my arm falls off."
The Gamecocks demonstrated an all-around performance in the third quarter, when the team combined its second-quarter offensive momentum with lockdown defense.
South Carolina was firing on offense, making 10 of its 17 field goal attempts and ending the quarter on a 9-0 scoring run. Though Paopao would go scoreless in the third quarter, the Gamecocks’ offense was supported by sophomore forwards Chloe Kitts and Ashlyn Watkins as well as redshirt sophomore guard Raven Johnson, who combined to score 23 of the team’s 39 second-half points.
Paopao would finish the game with a team-high 21 points, but Watkins, Kitts and Johnson would all finish the game with double-digit points, as well.
Head coach Dawn Staley said Kitts and Watkins shined in the absence of senior center Kamilla Cardoso, who has missed South Carolina's last two games while playing internationally for Brazil in a qualifying tournament for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
"It is a 'next-woman up' mentality. They know exactly what they need to do," Staley said. "I think for Chloe — Chloe's just playing her game. I think for Ashlyn — Ashlyn is impressive, like super impressive. I think with her having more responsibility, she's thriving in it on both sides of the floor."
On defense, South Carolina held UConn to 5-16 shooting and denied it opportunities close to the basket. The Gamecocks allowed the Huskies just 6 points in the paint throughout the third quarter.
Staley said she was impressed with South Carolina's defense throughout the game, especially that of junior guard Bree Hall. Hall was tasked with defending redshirt junior guard Paige Bueckers, who entered the game as the Huskies' leading scorer.
"Paige doesn't take bad shots. She only takes shots that are makeable ... She didn't shoot 50%, so that helps," Staley said. "I thought Bree did a good job of switching when we needed to switch, and Ashlyn had her. We just wanted to make it hard for her, and I know she felt our presence on the defensive side of the ball."
UConn attempted to claw its way back into the game with a 6-0 run to start the fourth quarter. But it would not be enough, as the Gamecocks closed out an 18-point win.
South Carolina (23-0, 10-0 SEC) will return to action on the road when it takes on Tennessee (14-8, 7-3 SEC) in Knoxville on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.