No. 1 Gamecocks, Staley seeking end to UConn losing streak
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Dawn Staley has accomplished many things in her 12 seasons as coach at South Carolina. Beating UConn, the game’s most dominant program in that stretch, is not among them.
Staley and the top-ranked Gamecocks (22-1) look to end that 0-7 run against the fourth-ranked Huskies (20-2) when the teams meet Monday night.
Losing to UConn has not sat well with Staley, who has won four Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles and the 2017 national championship.
“Who likes to keep losing?” Staley said Sunday.
Even worse for Staley, South Carolina has not been competitive in most of the defeats, falling by an average of 21 points.
South Carolina was No. 1 in 2015 — and 22-0 — when it lost to the second-ranked Huskies 87-62. UConn has been the higher ranked team every other time.
This time, though, the Gamecocks appear to have the more complete team. Freshman Aliyah Boston, who chose South Carolina over UConn, leads the team at 13.3 points and nine rebounds a game. Another highly regarded freshman, guard Zia Cooke, has averaged 12.4 points a game.
UConn was throttled a week ago by No. 3 Oregon at home, 74-56. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma believes his team has improved since then.
“One of these days all of these guys are going to make huge shots and big plays in a huge game and big moments and then,” Auriemma said, “everything will be right in the UConn world. When is that? I don’t know.”
South Carolina point guard Tyasha Harris, a freshman starter for the 2017 national champs, does not dwell on the past UConn wins in the series.
She has been focused on getting her teammates — eight of 11 players on the roster are freshmen or sophomores — locked in to playing this group of Huskies.
“They’re just really precise,” Harris said. “They do everything to a T.”
Boston, who had 18 points and 15 rebounds in Thursday’s game against No. 25 Arkansas, thinks the Gamecocks have done a great job blocking out the enormity of UConn’s history in women’s hoops in preparations the past few days.
“We really know what we’re trying to focus on doing,” she said.
When the Gamecocks’ program truly took flight in the 2014-15 season, Staley knew that playing UConn each year would be a showcase for the sport and a barometer of how far South Carolina had to go to reach the top.
“You want to measure yourself and they were the best team in the country and the decade,” Staley said. “What better way to do that.”
South Carolina has done well this season in the biggest games. It’s lone loss came to then-No. 17 Indiana on Thanksgiving. Since then, it has beaten seven ranked opponents in its 16-game winning streak, including defending national champ Baylor and last year’s SEC champion, Mississippi State.
The Huskies are eager to show the country they’re not the same team that got blown out by Oregon.
“How we played (against Oregon) is not how we play. Period,” said Christyn Williams, tied for second on UConn with 15.5 points a game.
UConn’s Megan Walker leads four double-digit scorers for her team at 19.5 points a game. Olivia Nelson-Adoda is tied for fourth nationally with 75 blocked shots, 10 more than South Carolina’s Boston.
Walker believes she’s got to penetrate more early on to open things up on the outside.
“If I can score in the lane, it will open up my jump shot. I’ve got to do more of that,” said Walker, who shot 3 of 16 against Oregon for a season-low eight points.
Staley likes that her team leads the SEC averaging 83 points a game and can put pressure on UConn at every spot on the floor.
“Hopefully, the tide has turned,” she said, “and we’re able to bring one home.”