There is no question the South Carolina women’s basketball team plays defense as well as any team in the country. That is evident by the 47.4 points they allow per game — best in the SEC and third best in the country.
But one thing that needs improving is the offense. In last week’s 20-point home loss to Tennessee, the Gamecocks went through a long scoreless stretch in the second half. They are shooting under 40 percent from the field (39.3 percent) and 25.7 percent from the 3-point line. Throw in the 54.4 percent they shoot from the free throw line, and that adds up to a team struggling to put the ball in the hoop.
That is one of the reasons the focus in practice as shifted since the start of SEC play.
“We’re trying to put more emphasis on our offense,” Staley said. “We put a lot of emphasis on our defense, and I think that is set now. I think they understand our approach and what we’re trying to do. So we’re trying to make our practices a little more offensive-minded.”
Things might be moving in the right direction as USC plays host to Vanderbilt on Thursday.
The Gamecocks were much more aggressive in attacking the basket in Sunday’s 60-46 victory at Mississippi State. The result was shooting 50 free throws and making 32, both team highs under Staley.
USC shot two 3-pointers and constantly pushed the ball into the paint.
“One of our strengths is getting to the paint with the pass or drive so getting it inside is a big part of our game any way that we can,” senior forward Ashley Bruner said.
Staley likes that approach.
“We’re trying to take higher percentage shots, and that’s usually through drives or our post players touching the ball,” she said. “We don’t want to settle on taking too many outside shots. We’re not shooting it efficiently as we would like so we can benefit from driving.”
If the offense continues to improve, the No. 18 Gamecocks (13-2, 1-1) hope to continue their recent success against the Commodores. USC has won three of the past four — including sweeping the season series last year — and are 3-2 against Vanderbilt under Dawn Staley.
But Vanderbilt (12-3. 2-0) will bring a deep and experienced team into Columbia. They are on a nine-game winning streak and are lurking outside the Top 25. They shoot the 3 well (SEC-best 37 percent) and are as good on the offensive end as the Gamecocks are on defense. Since going through a three-game skid early in the season, the Commodores have been on a roll.
Their two SEC wins includes a 51-point victory over the same Mississippi State team USC defeated by 14 points on Sunday. During the current nine-game winning streak, their average margin of victory has been 24 points.
Tiffany Clarke’s leads the potent offensive attack with 16.3 points per game but two other Vanderbilt players are in the top 22 in the league in scoring.
Staley feels whichever team can force their will on the other can come out the victor.
“We have enough people returning to know their style of play and what they like to do. They shoot a lot of 3’s, are very efficient offensively and they like to get to the free throw line,” Staley said. “It will be a challenge for us. Their strength is on the offensive end, and our strength is on the defensive end. It’s a crash course to see who’s strength’s win out.”
WHO: South Carolina (13-2, 1-1 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt (12-3, 2-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Colonial Life Arena
RADIO: WISW 1320 AM
SERIES: Vanderbilt leads 21-8
COACHES: Dawn Staley (80-60 in five seasons at USC, 252-140 in 13 seasons), Melanie Balcomb (250-97 in 11 seasons at Vanderbilt, 413-201 in 20 seasons)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: South Carolina has held 11 of 15 opponents to fewer than 50 points and is third in the country allowing 47.2 points per game. ... USC is taking an average 7.3 more shots per game than their opponents which helps since they struggle on offense. ... Aleighsa Welch is fourth in the SEC in rebounding (8.8) and leads the league in offensive rebounds (4.5). ... Ieasia Walker needs 37 points to reach 1,000 points for her career. ....The 32 free throws made by South Carolina at Mississippi State is the fourth most in school history....South Carolina has used the same starting line-up in all 15 games this season....Two of the last three games in series with Vanderbilt has been overtime games....Vanderbilt is first in the SEC in three-point FG percentage at 37 percent.