South Carolina Basketball: Shorthanded Gamecocks’ defense smothers Jackrabbits

South Carolina basketball guard Raven Johnson. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina basketball guard Raven Johnson. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports /
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South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks only had nine players available for Monday’s game against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Tessa Johnson (who also missed the Clemson game) and Te-Hina Paopao were both out with ankle injuries, cutting into Coach Staley’s guard rotation in a big way.

MiLaysia Fulwiley got her first career start with Paopao not playing, but the rest of the starting lineup was unchanged.

The Gamecocks were not the best version of themselves in the early goings, and the Jackrabbits led through the first 7 minutes of the game. The Gamecocks started 1-7 from the field while the SDSU was 5-8 as the score stood 11-6.

Kamilla Cardoso was the only South Carolina basketball player who could get anything going in the 1st quarter. When she left the game for a breather, she had 7 points and 3 rebounds. No other Gamecock had more than 2 points.

A 1-7 start from the field became 5-17. 5-17 became 7-25, but the Gamecock defense settled in as they held the Jackrabbits to 1-7 shooting over the last 5 1/2 minutes of the quarter. Carolina scored once more and ended the period leading 17-13. Forwards Brooklyn Meyer and Mesa Byom had 11 of the Jackrabbits’ 13 points, and Kamilla Cardoso and Raven Johnson had 11 of USC’s 17.

The first few minutes of the 2nd quarter mimicked the 1st. The Gamecocks really struggled to put the ball in the basket (10-35 from the field and 0-8 from outside). A Chloe Kitts free throw line jumper made the score 23-18 with 5:30 left in the half. The make injected some life into the crowd and into the Gamecocks.

From there, South Carolina basketball started to dominate the glass and finally began to score. Cardoso, Kitts, Raven Johnson, and Bree Hall played very aggressively as the run continued until the Gamecocks were up 32-20 with 2:30 to go.

Fans in CLA could tell Kamilla Cardoso was feeling good as she hit a rare midrange jump shot from the elbow to push her scoring total to 16 points. Some good defense to end the half forced South Dakota State into their 8th, 9th, and 10th turnovers. The half came to a close on a dangerously-close-to-falling 3/4-court heave from MiLaysia Fulwiley as USC led 36-22.

After halftime, Kamilla Cardoso picked up where she left off by scoring on her first touch. Both teams continued struggling to shoot from behind the arc, however, as the Gamecocks and Jackrabbits now combined to make 1-14 perimeter jumpers.

Brooklyn Meyer (who had 12 points and 6 rebounds already) picked up two quick fouls to bring her total to 3 infractions. She went to the bench, and things fell apart for SDSU.

MiLaysia Fulwiley and Raven Johnson began to cause problems for Jackrabbit ballhandlers with their quick hands and aggressive defense, leading to fast break buckets for the two guards. Just two and a half minutes into the 3rd quarter, South Carolina led 45-24.

The Gamecocks imposed their will for the rest of the quarter. A 17-2 run made the score 55-26, and the rout was on. The run was fueled by the defense of Ashlyn Watkins, Raven Johnson, and MiLaysia Fulwiley, and Johnson and Kamilla Cardoso handled most of the scoring.

A highlight reel assist from Fulwiley to Watkins was erased by a charge call. The Gamecocks went on a 3-minute scoring drought to end the quarter, and when the buzzer sounded, USC led 57-32.

After missing her first three shots in the 1st quarter, Raven Johnson made her 7th out of 8 attempts since the cold start. Her 16 points were second on the team as the Gamecocks slowed down the offensive pace with their big lead.

Brooklyn Meyer made a couple of shots, but the Gamecocks didn’t give up any ground as no one else on the South Dakota State team could do anything against a Carolina defense that had become suffocating.

The lead grew to 66-38 at the media timeout, and a circus shot from MiLaysia Fulwiley pushed that lead to 30 points. With just 9 players available, some starters still had to play, but the Gamecocks were able to put things on cruise control.

The slow pace of the Jackrabbits and the poor shooting start for the Gamecocks kept Dawn Staley’s team at their lowest scoring output of the year. Even so, South Carolina basketball won in blowout fashion 78-38.