Who can stop South Carolina basketball? According to last week’s results, the answer is nobody. Both Gamecock basketball teams swept their respective weeks, further adding to the best combined college basketball record in the sport at 38-3, a 92.7% winning percentage.
First up on the docket for Dawn Staley’s group was a much-anticipated battle against Kim Mulkey’s LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge. South Carolina had defeated the Bayou Bengals last year, but LSU ended up winning the NCAA title after the Gamecocks were bounced in the Final Four by Iowa. Much like last year, however, the Tigers were tamed, with South Carolina pulling out a late 76-70 win despite LSU leading for most of the game.
The Gamecock men hosted Missouri last Saturday in their first game since the win over Kentucky. There was chatter of this game being a “hangover” of sorts with the Gamecocks possibly looking forward to their road trip to Knoxville, (more on that later) but that talk was effectively squashed in a 72-64 win that saw the Gamecocks lead for almost the entire game and all but 19 seconds in the second half.
The South Carolina women’s basketball team’s next game was a home matchup against an upstart Vanderbilt squad that entered the day 17-3 despite being picked last in the conference in the preseason. While the ‘Dores managed a good offensive showing, making eight threes, the Gamecock offense was simply too much in a 91-74 home win.
Lamont Paris’s group still wasn’t ranked in the AP poll to start the week, much to the chagrin of the fanbase. That didn’t seem to matter, however, in their road game against No. 5 Tennessee on Tuesday night. After the Gamecocks were defeated by 40+ point margins twice last year, South Carolina upset the consensus best team in the conference by a 63-59 final score.
Dawn Staley’s team continued to roll, beating Auburn (a team that had already beaten LSU) on the road by a 76-54 margin, leading by as much as 25 points late in the fourth quarter.
The Gamecock men face Georgia on the road Saturday in an early afternoon 1 p.m. EST tip-off. Despite the Bulldogs’ 4-4 conference record so far, they delivered South Carolina’s lone home loss all season earlier in January. Further on in the week on Tuesday, the team returns home to play Ole Miss, a team finding itself in similar levels of success following a lack of preseason expectations.
On the women’s side, Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks face off against Ole Miss on a Sunday 2 p.m. tip-off at Colonial Life Arena, followed by another home matchup against Missouri on Thursday at 7. While Ole Miss is 2nd in the SEC with a 6-2 conference record, Missouri is 2-6 in-conference. South Carolina figures to be double-digit favorites against both teams.
- South Carolina Basketball Weekly Review: Stathead Section
While the South Carolina men are constantly attempting shots from behind the arc, with a 43.3% 3PAr, their opponents aren’t attempting the same volume, with just a 31.3% 3PAr. South Carolina is also making their threes (34.5%) at a higher level than their opponents (32.2.%).
Just how good has Ashlyn Watkins been defensively on the interior? Her block percentage of 12.7% is 4th nationally amongst all qualifying players in D-1, while her steal percentage of 2.8% is higher than all three of the players above her on the block percentage leaderboard.
Ta’Lon Cooper has been on fire offensively over the past several games. On the season, his true shooting percentage of 65.7 TS% is highest on the team and in the 97th percentile nationally amongst guards, but it’s at 83.1% over the past five games. That mark, amongst players with >100 minutes played in the last five games, ranks sixth (6th) nationally out of hundreds of players. Cooper is in the midst of a generational hot streak offensively.
There’s not a better fastbreak player in the country than MiLaysia Fulwiley, statistically. Her mark of 16.56 fastbreak points/100 possessions isn’t just higher than every other D-1 player, it’s almost 20% higher than the next-highest mark of 13.84/100 possessions.
Sticking with Cooper, he’s emerged as one of the best perimeter shooters in the conference. Amongst SEC players with at least 57 3PA, Cooper has the 2nd-best 3PT%, (45.8%) behind only Reed Sheppard’s mark of 54.2%.
The Gamecock men aren’t the only three-point specialists, however. Out of players with at least 58 3PA, Bree Hall (46.8%) and Te-Hina Paopao (49.5%) are the only women’s players in the SEC with a 3PT% of 42.5%. Out of all of D-1 women’s basketball, Paopao has the highest 3PT% amongst players with at least 67 3PA on the year.
Collin Murray-Boyles has been finding his footing on the court over the past several games, both on the offensive and defensive end of the court. His season-long assist percentage is 20.2%, good for the 97th percentile amongst D-1 forwards. However, over the past five games, that number has risen even higher, up to 22.1%. On defense, over the past five games, Murray-Boyles has a steal percentage of 3.5%, in the 98th percentile amongst forwards, and a 7.2% block percentage, 90th percentile amongst forwards. These strong defensive metrics are a big part of why the Gamecocks have won 4 of their past 5 games.
There’s only three women in the SEC averaging at least 12.9 defensive rebounds/100 possessions and 5.2 offensive rebounds/100 possessions. All three of them play for Dawn Staley, those being Ashlyn Watkins (12.94/7.17), Chloe Kitts (13.23/5.23), and Kamilla Cardoso (14.64/6.95).
Who’s the corner-three specialist for Lamont Paris’s group? That would be Myles Stute, who’s shooting 44.8% from that range on 1.6 attempts per game. 20.3% of all of Stute’s shot attempts this season have been corner threes, and he’s been converting them at a highly-efficient rate.
Raven Johnson has been extremely efficient with the ball in her hands this season, as well as taking the ball away from the opponent. Her assist/turnover ratio of 3.26/1 leads the conference, and her mark of 1.91:1 steals:personal fouls is 3rd in the SEC behind Alabama’s Karly Weathers and Gamecock teammate Te-Hina Paopao.
- South Carolina Basketball Weekly Review: Boxscore Break
Against LSU, Chloe Kitts led the team in points with 14, but every starter scored at least 10 points in a balanced offensive attack, and every starter made at least four shots from the field. Raven Johnson led the team with nine rebounds, a mark that would set her career-high, while Kamilla Cardoso tallied eight. Every Gamecock starter recorded an assist, and Te-Hina Paopao led the way with six. Off the bench, Sania Feagin and MiLaysia Fulwiley combined for 14 points and eight rebounds.
As a team, South Carolina was quite even with LSU in most statistical categories. The Gamecocks won the rebounding battle by a 39-37 margin, but LSU recorded more assists, 17 to the Gamecocks’ 15. South Carolina shot slightly better from the field (47.7 FG% to 44.8 FG%), from deep (35.0 3PT% to 33.3 3PT%), and from the line (53.8 FT% to 44.4 FT%). Both teams ended the game with 12 turnovers each.
In the men’s home victory over Missouri, the team MVP was B.J. Mack, who scored 21 points on 6-11 from the field and 7-11 from the line. Mack also added five rebounds. Though Meechie Johnson was held scoreless, Ta’Lon Cooper, Morris Ugusuk, and Jacobi Wright combined for 33 points on an electric 10-13 mark from the field, including a 6-9 split from deep. Collin Murray-Boyles added seven points, eight rebounds, two assists, four steals, and two blocks in 31 minutes.
Missouri shot better than South Carolina overall (47.1 FG% to 44.2 FG%), but almost every other stat category went in the Gamecocks’ favor. South Carolina tallied more assists (16-10 margin), shot better from deep (40.0 3PT% to 25.0 3PT%), and had more steals (8-5 margin). Missouri did win the rebounding battle by a slim 29-28 margin.
In the women’s game against Vandy, Kamilla Cardoso was dominant on offense, tallying 23 points in just 24 minutes. Cardoso also added six rebounds and two blocks. Ashlyn Watkins had a very efficient game off the bench, posting 11 points and eight rebounds to go along with three blocks and no turnovers in 23 minutes of action. Raven Johnson also had a solid game, scoring 10 points on just seven shots and leading the team with seven assists on the day.
As a team, South Carolina dominated inside, scoring 48 points in the paint to Vanderbilt’s 28, as well as sending back seven shots while getting just two of their own shots blocked. Vanderbilt held the advantage from deep, shooting 32.0% from behind the arc compared to the Gamecocks’ mark of 30.4%, but South Carolina still had the better night from the field overall, shooting a 51.5 FG% to Vandy’s 40.3 FG% mark. Vanderbilt was strong on the glass, but South Carolina won the rebounding battle by a slim 37-35 margin. The Gamecocks committed just six turnovers on the day.
In the upset road win over Tennessee, it was, again, Ta’Lon Cooper who paved the way for the Gamecocks. The senior guard went 6-10 from the field and led the team with 18 points, including a dagger three with under a minute left in the game. Myles Stute, in his return from injury, came off the bench and played a major role for South Carolina. He shot a perfect 3-3 from deep and 4-4 from the line in the waning moments of the game, shushing the crowd and relishing his giant-killer role. Stute ended with 13 points on the night. Though Josh Gray played just 14 minutes, he still led the team in rebounds with seven, as well as posting six points. For Tennessee, Dalton Knecht led the way with 31 points, more than half of the Vols’ total.
Interestingly enough, the Gamecocks didn’t record a single block in the game. They improved to 3-0 this season when held to no blocks in a game. South Carolina enjoyed a healthy margin of success from deep, shooting 34.5% from behind the arc, while Tennessee converted on just 23.8% of their threes. It was a similar story from the line, with South Carolina shooting 15-18 from the free-throw stripe and Tennessee shooting 12-20. That very well could’ve been the difference in a four-point game. Though the Gamecocks committed more fouls (18-16 margin) and turnovers (10-6 margin), they won the rebounding battle (40-37 margin) and tallied 15 assists to the Vols’ 11.
In the last game of the section for South Carolina basketball, MiLaysia Fulwiley was the team’s offensive MVP against Auburn, scoring 15 points on 6-13 shooting from the field. On a day in which Bree Hall did not score, the offensive output was that much important. However, the team’s overall MVP for the day had to be Ashlyn Watkins. The forward ended her day with 14 points, 15 rebounds, three steals, and five blocks. That’s elite.
Though South Carolina didn’t shoot well from deep at just 25.0%, they won the battle of the backboards by a comfortable margin, collecting 48 rebounds to Auburn’s 35. South Carolina had more than double Auburn’s points in the paint (48-22 margin), and both teams ended up with nine blocks on the day.
- South Carolina Basketball Weekly Review: Lineup Lookback
On both South Carolina basketball teams, the lineup situation was subtly fluid last week. For the men, the same starting five as the Kentucky and Arkansas games, Cooper, Johnson, Davis, Murray-Boyles, and Mack was used in the games against Missouri and Tennessee as Myles Stute worked his way back from a shoulder injury.
However, Stute did manage 20 minutes against Tennessee off the bench, his first time coming off the bench for a game since last year’s SEC tournament. It is assumed that Stute will return to the starting lineup beginning with the game in Athens against the same team he injured his shoulder against. Josh Gray continues to shine in a spot role as an elite rebounder and glue guy, as he’s picked up at least 10 minutes in each of the past three games. That’s been at the expense of Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, who has not played since the loss to Georgia.
On the women’s side, the starting five was the same as usual until the game against Auburn, which Chloe Kitts missed due to illness. In her place, Ashlyn Watkins got the start and received a team-high 31 minutes. Paopao, Hall, Raven Johnson, Cardoso, and Watkins, in that order, are the team leaders in MPG over the eight conference games played so far.
Kitts’s illness is not expected to be a long-term issue, and the sophomore forward should be back on the court sooner rather than later.