No. 1 South Carolina, last year’s national champion, and No. 2 Stanford, the 2021 national champion, will face off Sunday in the most anticipated matchup of the women’s college basketball season.
Both sides have the potential to cut the nets in April, so Sunday could offer fans a preview of either the Final Four or the Championship game.
Here are three storylines to watch when these two powerhouses hit the court Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC.
Aliyah Boston vs. Cameron Brink
This game features two of college basketball’s greatest bigs, Aliyah Boston of South Carolina and Cameron Brink of Stanford.
Boston won Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards last season after leading South Carolina to a national title, and Brink played a key role in Stanford’s 2021 title run. Both are future pros and generational talents.
But the 6-foot-5 Gamecocks senior and the 6-foot-4 Cardinal junior bring opposite playstyles to the ground.
Their greatest resemblance is in their shot blocking abilities. Last season, Boston averaged 2.4 blocks per game, while Brink averaged 2.6 per game. Though Brink’s stats were better, Boston holds the defensive advantage because of their attitude. Brink was prone to fouls in her first two years with the Cardinal, so keeping her grounded against Boston will be crucial for Stanford.
In terms of her offensive skills, Boston is more of a traditional big, dealing her damage back-to-basket or on offensive boards, while Brink has guard skills that allow her to catch and drive from the perimeter. In this game, expect Stanford to look to add defense by getting Brink out. South Carolina, on the other hand, will likely challenge Brink to bench them with nasty problems.
Both teams are blessed with depth.
That’s a gift, but it also means South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer will have to spend the early part of the season tinkering with their lineups. There’s a good chance Stanford and South Carolina will meet again in the postseason, and if they do, their rotations could look very different than Sunday.
Keep an eye out for the usual suspects this weekend – Brink and Haley Jones for Stanford, and Boston and Zia Cooke for South Carolina – but also know that any number of players can step up and make a difference.
In the starting lineup, Raven Johnson could have a breakout game for South Carolina. Following an injury early last season, the No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2021 was selected to take over the point guard spot from Destanni Henderson. Hannah Jump got off to a flying start for Stanford, shooting 58% from beyond the arc and averaging a team-high 13.2 points per game.
Off the bench, both teams also have elite post options. South Carolina has the luxury of trading Boston for the 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso while Stanford brings in No. 1 recruit Lauren Betts. And it doesn’t end there. No. 12 in the country Ashlyn Watkins has gotten key minutes for the Gamecocks – she made headlines with a dunk against Clemson – and Stanford forward Kiki Iriafen has gone from 6.5 minutes per game as a freshman to 11.8 points per game in their second season.
Stanford started the season exceptionally well. So far, the Cardinals are hitting 55% of their field goals and 41% of their 3-pointers. At the forefront of efficiency is Iriafen, which ranks second in the country and has made 75% of her shot attempts so far. Betts isn’t far behind, making 72% of her attempts.
For South Carolina, Boston has scored on 71.4% of their attempts, and the postal cohort is following suit. Cardoso (with fewer attempts) is at 82.4%, Watkins is at 70.6% and Sania Feagin – another player making big strides since last season – is at 76.9%.
Both teams like to find high-percentage glimpses inside, and both teams do so with relative ease.
Defending in this game will be on a different level compared to the teams South Carolina and Stanford have faced so far — although the Gamecocks met No. 17 Maryland — so those numbers probably won’t be as high. Be aware that both sides are trying to use other aspects of the game, like free throws or outside shots, to find some sort of separation. That could be the difference, but the Gamecocks and the Cardinal won’t shy away from their inside game and it should be an exciting battle in key.