The Daily Gamecock

Behind enemy bylines: The Daily Campus sports editor predicts Gamecocks to win highly anticipated matchup against UConn

<p>Freshman guard Tessa Johnson, senior guard Te-Hina Paopao and freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley huddle together during a timeout against the Kentucky Wildcats. The trio contributed 39 points during South Carolina’s 98-36 victory over Kentucky on Jan. 15, 2023.</p>
Freshman guard Tessa Johnson, senior guard Te-Hina Paopao and freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley huddle together during a timeout against the Kentucky Wildcats. The trio contributed 39 points during South Carolina’s 98-36 victory over Kentucky on Jan. 15, 2023.

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 face off against one of the sport's powerhouses in the No. 11 UConn Huskies on Sunday at 2 p.m.

The Gamecocks won its third consecutive matchup against the Huskies the last time the two teams met on Feb. 5, 2023. In the 81-77 victory, former South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston scored 26 points.

The Daily Gamecock spoke with Stratton Stave — the sports editor at Connecticut's student newspaper, The Daily Campus — to gain insight on UConn women's basketball ahead of Sunday's contest.

The Daily Gamecock: What are the overall impressions that you've gathered from UConn this season?

Stratton Stave: "It's been sort of unrelenting injuries ever since (my freshman year). I mean, you talk about (redshirt junior guard) Paige's (Bueckers) injury that had her out for half of (her sophomore) season, her injury that ended up killing last year's season. And then, this year, she's been healthy, but you have (redshirt freshman center) Jana El Alfy, a freshman who was supposed to play a pretty big role — she's out. (Graduate student guard) Aubrey Griffin out for the season, (junior guard) Caroline Ducharme out for the season ... so that's just been absolutely brutal for this team.

"They were as good as any other team in the country talent-wise going in, but, I mean, at this point ... the dominance that we've seen from UConn teams of the past has not been as consistent."

UConn has lost a number of key players to season-ending injuries. How has the team adjusted to those losses?

"With (junior guard) Azzi Fudd getting injured, that's really opened the door for (guard) Ashlynn Shade. She's a freshman (and) came in as the 15th-best player in country. But a couple games into the season, no one was looking at her as anyone who was going to get real minutes. But the fact that UConn lost so many pieces really forced (head coach Geno Auriemma)'s hand in terms of having to play her, but she's been really, really impressive.

"(She's the) Big East Player of the Year front runner ... (and) really stepped up to the occasion in a way that no one else on the team has."

The Huskies are 11-0 in Big East play to kick off the season. What's been working for them?

"They have great players. You have Paige Bueckers — won National Player of the Year as a freshman the last time she was fully healthy. You have (senior forward) Aaliyah Edwards, who people forget was an All-American last season. You have (freshman guard) KK Arnold, who was a top-six recruit last year. So the pieces are all there. And you have (senior guard) Nika Mühl, who, of all the players in UConn history, she, last year, had the most assists in a single season.

"So the pieces are all there, and the talent is just going to be a lot richer than any other team in the Big East. And obviously, the UConn brand is definitely a little intimidating for other Big East schools."

Which players could be an X-factor against South Carolina?

"Obviously, Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards. You're looking at them as X-factors because they're the two best players on the team ... I would probably say Edwards as the biggest factor just because of how little frontcourt depth UConn has. You could look at (forward) Ice Brady as another important player, but she hasn't done much. She's a redshirt freshman. She hurt her knee last year.

"That frontcourt duo is really going to need to step up Sunday because if they don't, then South Carolina is going to do a lot in the interior."

What are the stakes for UConn in this game?

"To be honest with you, it means very little ... If they win, it's like 'Oh my gosh, this team could win the national championship.' But right now, UConn's not — because of injuries — they're not in a place where they can legitimately be expected to win.

"The Notre Dame loss was, I think, more of a game where you could look at that and say, 'This is a game that means a lot to this season. It's going to be really telling of where this team's at right now.' But South Carolina, it's going to be — obviously (having) no (senior center) Kamilla Cardoso — it's going to make the game a little more interesting probably. But I don't think that this game, unless it's a really good battle and the teams look super even, I don't think it's going to tell us much about UConn."

Who wins, and what is your score prediction?

"I'm going to go with South Carolina ... Previously, I would've said (by) maybe 20-ish points with Cardoso in because she's just so physically imposing and talented. And UConn just doesn't have an answer for her, with UConn's biggest player being 6-foot-3, aside from (junior forward) Amari DeBerry.

"You could be looking at a 10, 15-point game. Maybe I'd say 70-57."


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