Who wins? Does an absence of depth meet up with the Huskies?
Ten months in the past, South Carolina and UConn met within the nationwide championship recreation. The Gamecocks gained the title and have not misplaced since.
They face off once more Sunday within the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut.
The Gamecocks are 22-0 and projected because the No. 1 total seed within the NCAA match. The Huskies have misplaced twice this season — to Notre Dame and Maryland within the first two weeks of December — and have handled a plethora of accidents. But they’re nonetheless the No. 5 workforce within the nation and are additionally projected as a No. 1 seed in ESPN’s newest Bracketology.
Sunday’s recreation marks the thirteenth assembly between the packages. The sequence wasn’t a lot of a rivalry till 2020, when South Carolina beat UConn for the primary time after eight losses. The Gamecocks are since 3-1 within the sequence.
What can we anticipate from each groups within the final high-profile nonconference matchup of the common season? ESPN’s Charlie Creme, Alexa Philippou and M.A. Voepel break down the sport and what’s at stake.
How will South Carolina’s depth and UConn’s lack of obtainable gamers affect the matchup?
Charlie Creme: Depth, together with protection (no workforce permits fewer factors per recreation), has been South Carolina’s calling card this season. On Sunday in opposition to Alabama, the bench outscored the starters. The Gamecocks have 11 gamers within the common rotation who’re averaging double-figure minutes per recreation.
The Huskies, who will likely be taking part in their sixth recreation in simply over two weeks, solely used six gamers of their recreation final Sunday in opposition to Villanova, with Nika Muhl, Aaliyah Edwards and Dorka Juhász taking part in all 40 minutes. Despite exhibiting nice resolve to win the sport, the weariness confirmed. The fatigue was much more evident in Thursday’s sluggish win over Providence. Geno Auriemma and Muhl admitted after the sport that the workforce was drained.
No workforce within the nation is best at sporting down an opponent than South Carolina. UConn could be proficient sufficient to beat its lack of depth in opposition to anybody besides the Gamecocks.
M.A. Voepel: Sometimes depth is an overrated factor in basketball, however on this case the distinction between the groups is stark. South Carolina brings Kamilla Cardoso, Laeticia Amihere, Raven Johnson, Bree Hall and Ashlyn Watkins all off the bench. That’s how a lot expertise (and really, there’s much more) coach Dawn Staley has, and the gamers have purchased into her system, the place nobody averages greater than 25 minutes per recreation.
The Huskies cannot afford two gamers having “off” video games with out it critically affecting them. South Carolina can stand up to that and extra. The Gamecocks would not need a type of gamers to be famous person Aliyah Boston, however you can see them beating a top-five foe even when she wasn’t at her greatest. To UConn’s credit score, the Huskies have stood as much as all their depth challenges. As Charlie mentioned, the hardest workforce within the nation to do this in opposition to is South Carolina.
Alexa Philippou: The shorthanded Huskies put up an admirable effort in opposition to Tennessee in a hostile atmosphere, however every recreation since we have seen the consequences of each psychological and bodily fatigue weighing on their starters. Yes, UConn has eight accessible gamers, however its three reserves can be the final ones off the bench if the workforce have been wholesome. Against Providence, that trio performed a mixed 27 minutes and completed with one level, one help and 0 rebounds. And whereas it seems Caroline Ducharme (concussion) is nearing a possible return, it is not going she’ll be prepared by Sunday.
The lack of depth did not find yourself hurting UConn in opposition to Tennessee, however the Gamecocks are too good and too deep to not capitalize off their plethora of choices. Auriemma could have his group ready and able to grind it out regardless of the final word consequence, however Staley simply has too many choices and contemporary legs at her disposal.
Aliyah Boston and Aaliyah Edwards are two of the most effective gamers within the nation this season. How will they match up?
Voepel: This recreation is much-anticipated not simply because it’s a rematch of the 2022 nationwide championship recreation, however as a result of we get to see how an improved Edwards fares in opposition to Boston, who’s the measuring stick for faculty submit gamers.
It’s been enjoyable to see how Edwards’ recreation has grown this season and the way nicely she has embraced having a lot weight on her shoulders. As a junior, she has blossomed into what we consider because the basic UConn submit participant: She creates a giant goal, she is relentless on the boards, she passes nicely, she does not get rattled.
Boston was a pro-ready participant even final season, and she or he has had no drop-off in capability even when her stats are decrease. The mixture of South Carolina’s depth and the Gamecocks’ domination of a lot of their opponents clarify why Boston’s numbers are down regardless that she’s taking part in simply as nicely.
Creme: Not solely is Boston a novel expertise, however her presence throughout the South Carolina system is exclusive. She does not need to be statistically dominant for the Gamecocks to win. A 13-point, eight-rebound recreation for Boston might produce the identical consequence as a 22 and 15 output. These days, Edwards shouldn’t be afforded that luxurious.
She has to play substantial minutes and produce huge numbers for UConn to win almost any recreation, not to mention one in opposition to the most effective workforce within the nation. When the 2 are matched up one-on-one, how efficient Edwards is making these 15-foot soar pictures on which she has improved a lot will likely be essential, particularly early within the recreation. That ought to draw Boston away from the basket, liberating up Juhász to function within the low submit and create extra driving room for Aubrey Griffin. The extra Edwards’ athleticism and Juhász’s deep capturing skills are capable of transfer Boston round, UConn could have extra likelihood at success.
Philippou I do not anticipate UConn’s posts to mix for 12 factors and 4 rebounds like they did in opposition to South Carolina within the 2022 nationwide title recreation. An improved Edwards and wholesome Juhász have made this 12 months’s Huskies frontcourt way more potent than final 12 months’s, they usually’ve been additional bolstered by Griffin’s return. That mentioned, UConn allowed Tennessee to dominate the offensive glass, in order that’s one space the Huskies want to enhance in the event that they wish to hold Sunday’s recreation aggressive. While Boston singlehandedly does not must do as a lot for South Carolina for the Gamecocks to win, a UConn upset appears unbelievable with out, possible, each Edwards and Juhász having nice video games.
I nonetheless give the sting to South Carolina right here. Not solely do the Gamecocks have Boston, they’ve Cardoso and several other athletic forwards at their disposal, which might be much more essential if foul hassle turns into an element.
Which workforce has the sting within the backcourt?
Nika Muhl drops a no-look dime to provide UConn the lead
Nika Muhl makes a pleasant cross in transition to Aubrey Griffin for the straightforward layup.
Philippou: Much focus will likely be on the Boston-Edwards showdown, however do not sleep on the battle within the backcourt. Lou Lopez Sénéchal has been a revelation for the Huskies, although she’s seemed fatigued this week, going 1-for-8 on 3-pointers throughout the previous two video games. Zia Cooke, in the meantime, has posted a career-best 2-point effectivity (42.0%) and has improved her 3-point clip from final 12 months (28.7% to 38.0%).
As Charlie factors out under, UConn’s lack of ball handlers might actually harm the Huskies in opposition to such a defensive-minded workforce as South Carolina — it is one of many causes they have been so turnover-prone regardless that they’ve managed to maintain successful for probably the most half. At the top of the day, this recreation is the place they will most miss injured Azzi Fudd’s ballhandling, shot-creating and capturing.
Creme: The Huskies are probably the most environment friendly offense within the nation, largely due to the play of Muhl, Lopez Sénéchal and Griffin. If UConn has a bonus on this recreation, that is it. South Carolina’s guards do not play with the identical offensive crispness or shot-making capability as UConn’s.
South Carolina can run waves of athletic guards at UConn’s band of three. Because foul hassle, with the doable exception of main scorer Cooke, shouldn’t be one thing Dawn Staley has to fret about, the likes of Beal, Amihere, Johnson, Hall and Kierra Fletcher can play as bodily as they need. Over 40 minutes that would take a toll, particularly on Muhl and Lopez Sénéchal, who’re UConn’s predominant ball handlers.
Voepel: Muhl is an old-school level guard: Her main position is as a facilitator and she or he’s nice at it, main Division I girls with 8.8 assists per recreation. Where would UConn be with out Lopez Sénéchal? The Fairfield Stags switch seems to be as if she’s been with the Huskies for years. These two have been so spectacular, particularly contemplating how a lot and the way nicely they’ve performed with Fudd and Ducharme out with accidents and Paige Bueckers lacking the season.
But South Carolina’s guard corps brings measurement, size and quickness. Cooke is main the Gamecocks in scoring (15.4) and is their greatest 3-point shooter. When she leaves the courtroom, South Carolina has replacements who may not be Cooke’s offensive equal however excel defensively.
What’s at stake for the projected No. 1 seeds?
Creme: From a Bracketology perspective, South Carolina has nothing to lose, or achieve, for that matter. The Gamecocks are entrenched as a No. 1 seed. A loss does not change that. In reality, a loss is not even almost sufficient to value them the No. 1 total spot. A win would all however lock that down.
The recreation has extra that means for the Huskies. A loss, particularly a detailed one, would not instantly value them a No. 1 seed. But if UConn pulls the upset with out Fudd and Ducharme, it might take one thing appreciable over the following month to knock the Huskies out of a high seed.
Where it will get fascinating is that if UConn will get blown out on Sunday and per week later LSU beats South Carolina — or at minimal makes it a aggressive recreation. That might be the most effective case the Tigers — presently a No. 2 seed — would have of transferring previous the Huskies to a No. 1 seed.
Which workforce wins Sunday?
Voepel: The means the Gamecocks have seemed, how do you choose in opposition to them? South Carolina will get the nod, for certain. But it is unlikely the Huskies will not play as much as expectations, too, as a result of that is what this system does. And the XL Center crowd, having so few instances after they can rally behind a UConn workforce thought-about the underdog, needs to be very energetic. The recreation might be shut within the first half, and UConn may even lead on the break. But it is exhausting to see the Gamecocks not sporting down the Huskies, taking management and shutting them out.
Creme: UConn is probably the most correct subject aim capturing workforce within the nation. No one holds their opponents to a decrease proportion than the Gamecocks. It’s the final word power vs. power matchup. But this recreation is coming on the fallacious time for the Huskies. They look worn down after two months of overcoming accidents and sickness. To beat South Carolina, even UConn would must be at its peak powers. Even on the street, that is the Gamecocks’ recreation to lose — they usually will not. The Huskies will discover a method to keep shut so long as they’ll. But 40 minutes is a very long time, and South Carolina wins going away.
Philippou: South Carolina wins this one behind its superior depth, but when these two groups meet once more in March or April — and UConn has Ducharme and Fudd again into the fold and taking part in at a excessive stage — the consequence might be a lot completely different.