COLUMBIA — Women’s basketball No. 1 South Carolina faces its biggest challenge of the regular season in a marquee match this week against No. 2 Stanford.
The Gamecocks (3-0) defeated Stanford 65-61 in 2021 and went on to win the 2022 national championship. The Cardinal’s (5-0) last win of the series came in the 2021 NCAA tournament when he included the Gamecocks in the Final Four eliminated in a one-point win. Stanford won the 2021 championship.
Stanford leads the all-time streak against South Carolina 6-2, but the Cardinal won five straight games from 2007 to 2012 before suffering his first loss to the Gamecocks in the 2017 Final Four.
Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s (3pm ABC) top 2 matchup:
CLEMSON RIVALRY VICTORY:Clemson, the South Carolina women’s basketball player, takes the first lead in the rivalry series
ASHLYN WATKINS DUNK:Watch South Carolina Women’s Basketball’s Ashlyn Watkins score the first dunk in program history
GAMECOCKS RECRUITMENT:No. 1 Juju Watkins moves to Southern California via South Carolina women’s basketball, Stanford
Player of the Year campaigns begin
South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston and Stanford guard Haley Jones are two of the biggest names in college women’s basketball, and with good reason. Both seniors were named 2022-23 preseason All-Americans and are widely predicted to be the top two picks in the 2023 WNBA draft. Last season, Jones averaged 13.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Boston, the 2021-22 consensus international, averaged 16.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
The Superstars will be key to the outcome, whatever the outcome. Boston dominated the Gamecocks’ win over the Cardinal last season with 18 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and four steals. In Stanford’s win at the 2021 Final Four, Jones led the team by 24 points and made both of her 3-point shot attempts.
On the road – again
South Carolina is in the middle of a four-game road trip, and Palo Alto is the third stop. The Gamecocks picked up big wins at No. 19 Maryland and Clemson, but a cross-country run against the nation’s No. 2 team is another challenge.
The two teams have met just five times at non-neutral venues, and Stanford is unbeaten at home to South Carolina. It’s been more than a decade since those two victories, however, in 2007 and 2010. Since coach Dawn Staley took over the program in 2008, the Gamecocks have gone 182-71 on away games.
battle of the greats
The Gamecocks have so far outsized all three of their opponents, even Maryland. Staley has often used a lineup that puts 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso and 6-5 Boston on the field at the same time, and the team has three other forwards 6-3 or taller who can also rotate. However, Stanford can rival South Carolina at virtually every position.
The Cardinal’s greatness is led by 6-4 junior Cameron Brink, who earned All-American votes last season and averaged 13.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks last season. The team also starts 6-3 sophomore Kiki Iriafen and added 6-7 freshman center Lauren Betts.
Both teams have big jumps, too: Stanford senior Fran Belibi became the eighth woman to dunk in a college women’s basketball game last season, and South Carolina freshman Ashlyn Watkins became ninth Thursday against Clemson.
Inexperience at the point guard
South Carolina’s biggest loss against last season’s championship team was point guard Destanni Henderson, who was selected by the Indiana Fever in the 2022 WNBA Draft. The Gamecocks are still experimenting with the position, starting with redshirt rookie Raven Johnson in the first two games and Georgia Tech transfer Kierra Fletcher versus Clemson. Top returners Zia Cooke and Laeticia Amihere also played minutes in the position, so Staley could turn to either of them for a true point guard against the Cardinal.
Stanford is in a similar situation with the graduation of Anna Wilson and Lacie Hull. The team started in two games this year with freshman Talana Lepolo as point guard, while junior Agnes Emma-Nnopu has three starts. Jones is also capable of taking the position, so coach Tara VanDerveer will also face the dilemma between experience and a real point on Sunday.
South Carolina 68, Stanford 65: Like last season, the Gamecocks come out sluggish and Stanford capitalizes on this to maintain a decent lead at halftime. Boston and Cooke lead a second-half comeback that hits the spot and South Carolina holds on to the buzzer to claim the win.