The Maryland women stand firm before being overwhelmed by South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Elite skills are, of course, a requirement for any opponent looking to travel to South Carolina and keep up with Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks. But along with speed, toughness, killer shooting and a smooth grip, you also need to maintain your composure.

That’s because playing against No. 6 South Carolina is, in a word, unsettling. It’s a 40-minute sensory overload in which the defenders are fully committed to pushing their attacks across the floor and into the outstretched arms and active hands of the helping defense. And the Gamecocks’ offense runs at a relentless pace that leaves opponents no time to breathe.

No. 14 Maryland did an excellent job keeping its wits about it for about 17 minutes Sunday afternoon and keeping up with South Carolina’s pace, but in a tight window at the end of the first half, the Gamecocks accomplished their mission. They shut down the Terps and all they had to do after that was keep their level high. They did that and more, beating Maryland 114-76 and improving to 6-2 in a series that has been a staple of the Terps’ schedule since 2017. South Carolina has won the last five meetings.

Staley unleashed a never-ending squad of players equal parts polished and ferocious to score the most points against a ranked opponent in program history. The last time these teams met, in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament in March, the Terps lost a thrilling game. Maryland coach Brenda Frese said after Sunday’s game that she thinks this group of Gamecocks is better.

“Well, there are shooters this year,” she said. “…I don’t think I’ve ever seen a box score with seven players in double figures and two others almost there.”

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The atmosphere at Colonial Life Arena was celebratory even before the game began. Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke, Brea Beal and Olivia Thompson – members of Staley’s top-ranked 2019 recruiting class that won the 2022 national title and appeared in three Final Fours – were in attendance as scheduled to receive their 2023 Final Four and SEC Championship rings A’ yes Wilson, 2017 NCAA champion and current WNBA star. The Gamecocks had earned a stunning 100-71 win over No. 10 Notre Dame in Paris six days earlier, prompting Staley to question Sunday about her team’s ability to score 100 points in every game going forward.

She thought about her answer for a moment and then asked, “Who do we have next?”

Staley was joking – probably – and claimed such a question would only provide bulletin board material for South Carolina’s next opponent (in-state rival Clemson). It made no difference what the Terps taped to their locker room walls on Sunday.

But Sunday’s game was a heated and even duel well into the second quarter.

Maryland (1-1) matched the Gamecocks’ physicality, relying on Shyanne Sellers’ slick offense and Bri McDaniel’s shooting as South Carolina struggled to get the win. McDaniel hit the Terps’ fifth three-pointer of the second quarter with 3:58 to play to give them a 31-28 lead.

Maryland led 32-31 a minute later before South Carolina (2-0) finally got moving when freshman guard Tessa Johnson hit a three-pointer. She then forced Sellers into a turnover and got the ball to senior guard Te-Hina Paopao (team-high 14 points) for another three points.

That six-point blow was enough for the Gamecocks to upset the Terps and change the momentum for good. They ended the first half with a 17-4 run and led 48-36 at halftime. That lead turned into a 21-point lead midway through the third quarter.

A big part of this run? South Carolina started 1 for 9 from three-point range but finished the game 12 for 24. The Gamecocks had 30 assists on their 43 field goals.

“You never want to put yourself in a hole before halftime,” Sellers said. “We tried to dig ourselves out, but it was a pretty big hole.”

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Sellers, a 6-foot-2 junior who ran Maryland’s offense in place of a true point guard, led the Terps with 21 points, eight rebounds and six turnovers, while the defense, led largely by Raven, the Gamecocks’ lightning-quick guard, Johnson was overwhelming. North Carolina State transfer Jakia Brown-Turner added 12 points and Faith Masonius had 11.

The loss was the first game in what Frese called a “growth week” for her Terps, who visit No. 2 Connecticut on Thursday. The Huskies were surprised by unranked North Carolina State on Sunday.

“I thought we fought for 16 minutes in the first half, so 16½,” Frese said. “I thought our reaction from the locker room in the first four minutes was really good. And now it’s up to us to simply not make mistakes worse. I thought we allowed too many – one mistake led to two, led to three. So that’s the growth area and we have players who need to take on bigger roles now this season and understand how to stop the bleeding when mistakes like that happen.”

South Carolina should also be growing at this early point in the season and finding its footing after losing seven seniors. Still, Staley had the depth to showcase on Sunday. When the Gamecocks’ jumpers failed in the first half, they had the luxury of calling on two experienced frontcourt players to get saves under the basket: 6-2 sophomore Chloe Kitts and senior Kamilla Cardoso. with 6:7 (12 points, seven). rebounds). Kitts was one of two sophomore forwards with double-doubles: She had 13 points and 10 rebounds. Ashlyn Watkins, her backup, had 13 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.

With statistics like that, Staley gave a reasoned answer when asked about her team’s potential.

“It looks like we can shoot the ball. “It looks like we’re probably not as good a defensive team as we used to be, but that’s probably because we can score the ball and have more possession,” she said. “But they listen. There’s something to be said about listeners, something about people who can do something. And the more we have these types of games, the more confidence they gain as a collective unit.”

More trust? That’s a troubling thought for South Carolina’s opponents. The Maryland women stand firm before being overwhelmed by South Carolina

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