Women's March Madness 2024: South Carolina's depth, offensive evolution have it primed for national title run



Last year’s South Carolina Gamecocks fell short of the national title with a loss in the Final Four, but this season the team seems very much equipped to finish the job.

After losing all five starters, including two-time Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston, this was expected to be somewhat of a rebuilding season for the Gamecocks. They didn’t get the memo, however, and head coach Dawn Staley frankly said she “couldn’t care less” about outside expectations during the offseason. She knew what she was cooking. 

Fast forward to the day after Selection Sunday, and South Carolina is entering the NCAA Women’s Tournament undefeated for the second consecutive season. The Gamecocks are also the No. 1 overall seed for the third straight year.

With respect to last year’s incredible roster, South Carolina has leveled up in areas it was previously lacking. The Gamecocks are still very much a defensive powerhouse, holding opponents to just 56.3 points per game. However, their depth and offensive abilities are even stronger than they were during their 2022 national title run. 

Here are three reasons why South Carolina is best positioned to win its second title in the last three seasons. 

Newfound consistency, balance on offense

During their 2022 championship season, the Gamecocks were very inconsistent offensively and scored 65 points or less in 11 games. South Carolina improved to just five such games a season ago, and in 2023-24 scored 65 or below only once — in a 65-58 win over a ranked North Carolina team. In fact, the Gamecocks have scored at least 100 points in six games this season. 

South Carolina shot 46.2% from the field during the 2022-23 campaign, including only 31% from 3-point range. Zia Cooke and Boston were the team’s only double-digit scorers with 15.4 and 13 points, respectively. Kamilla Cardoso also contributed 9.8 points per contest. 

This season, the Gamecocks improved to 49.7% from the field and 39.7% from 3-point range — which puts South Carolina in the top five nationally in both categories. 

Cardoso has taken over, leading the offense with 14 points per game. What’s impressive is South Carolina has seven players averaging over eight points per game. When you have one or two star players who run the offense, it’s easier for opponents to know who to guard, but for South Carolina the answer of who to focus on is everyone. Five Gamecocks reached double figures in 17 games this season.

“All of our kids are confident,” Staley said during South Carolina’s game against UConn on Feb. 11. “All of our kids are probably starters in our program and probably every other program across the country.”

Paopao ignites Gamecocks’ 3-point shooting 

When South Carolina suffered the 77-73 loss to Iowa in the 2023 Final Four, one of the most eye-popping stats was the Gamecocks went just 4-of-20 from beyond the arc. That outcome would likely be different today because the South Carolina offense no longer relies on just dominating the paint.

Offensive versatility and 3-point shooting have improved significantly with the addition of Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao. The senior guard has the third-best 3-point shooting percentage in the country at 47.1%. Junior guard Bree Hall is another dangerous shooter as she has made 40% of her 115 attempts from 3-point range.

This doesn’t mean South Carolina is a top 3-point shooting team by volume as the Gamecocks only average 6.5 treys per contest. It does mean, however, they have to be feared from long range. 

In a not-too-serious example, Tennessee learned this lesson the hard way during the SEC Tournament semifinals. Cardoso, who had never even attempted a shot from beyond the arc in her career, made a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win the game. Most likely, Cardoso will not be firing from deep a ton this tournament, but it was a good reminder to stay locked in defensively because Staley’s group is filled with surprises.

Depth allows for fresher legs, stars can emerge

UConn coach Geno Auriemma gave his opinion on what made South Carolina so difficult to play after his team suffered a 83-65 loss to the Gamecocks in February.

“Not just their depth is different, but their style of play is different,” Auriemma said. “They’re able to keep the pressure on because they can bring more bodies off the bench.”

We already touched on how depth creates more points, but it also makes things run smoother when there is foul trouble, injuries or absences — something the Gamecocks will be dealing with in the first round of the tournament. Cardoso will not be playing on March 22 because of the scuffle that broke out during the SEC championship game against LSU. She is the veteran leader of the team, but her absence highlights the importance of a deep roster. 

Cardoso missed two games earlier this season to play with the Brazilian national team in the 2024 FIBA Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament. While she was gone, sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins, who averages about 20 minutes per game, took her spot in the starting lineup. South Carolina cruised through an 83-45 win over Missouri, and then found a 18-point win over UConn. Staley was so impressed at how smooth the ship was sailing that she started considering more playing time for Watkins. 

During the Selection Sunday broadcast, Staley said the team is obviously better with Cardoso in the lineup, but she pointed out the Gamecocks are prepared for any figuration. 





Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top