The Gamecocks, on the other hand, played sharply and turned to their signature defense in the second half, allowing Connecticut to score just 3 points in the fourth quarter against tight man-to-man coverage.
Junior striker Aliyah Boston nearly had a double-double in the first half, finishing the game with 22 points and 15 rebounds — the kind of feat South Carolina has relied on all season.
“It’s time for Aliyah Boston to become the dominant player she is,” Staley said.
The guards Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson are the other two keys to the South Carolina attack. Cooke had 17 points worth of circus shots, while Henderson’s skilled knowledge manifested itself in quick transition baskets and a balanced stat line of 15 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals.
Overall, the team showed its depth – and that it has plenty of room to grow. For example, if the Gamecocks can get Kamilla Cardoso, a six-foot transfer from Syracuse, more involved in the paint, they may have an easy answer to a tough domestic defense like Connecticut’s.
This was the first big test of the season for the Huskies. UConn guard Paige Bueckers, the team’s leading scorer, delivered some stunning baskets and in the first half, the Huskies’ ball movement seemed almost transcendent. Which rhythm fell apart in the second half, when only Bueckers had more than one field goal.
However, Connecticut will have plenty of shooters ready to help once it reduces some of its more fundamental flaws. Redshirt senior guard Evina Westbrook was the spark for the attack in Connecticut early on and the team’s second leading scorer. With more chances, she may be able to lift some of Bueckers’ offensive load.
Azzi Fudd, a highly regarded freshman, barely played Monday after scoring 18 points against the University of South Florida on Sunday, a decision Auriemma attributed to her inability to move within South Carolina’s stifling defense. However, with more time in the major leagues of college basketball, Fudd could become a consistent scoring threat.