A week ago, No. 18 South Carolina played probably it’s worst half of basketball against Tennessee and the end result was a 20-point loss.
Things were drastically different against Vanderbilt on Thursday night. The Gamecocks locked in to another impressive defensive performance and rode a hot-shooting first half to a 64-48 victory against the Commodores at Colonial Life Arena.
The Gamecocks limited the best three-point shooting team in the SEC to 2-of-7 from beyond the arc. They held Tiffany Clarke, the SEC’s fourth-ranked scorer and second-best field goal percentage shooter to 8 points on 3-of-11 shooting. The end result was holding Vanderbilt to 23 points below its average.
“I think we locked into the game plan,” USC coach Dawn Staley said. “We plant the seed very, very early on in our preparation. They need to hit threes to win. They’re a team that relies on those 3-pointers, and rightfully so, because they have the personnel to do that. If they’re going to beat us, they have to two us rather than three us.”
The defense on Clarke was crucial as well. She picked up two fouls in the first 11 minutes and sat a lot of the first half but she never really found a rhythm offensively. She had scored 39 points in the two SEC victories for Vanderbilt.
“We knew we needed to take her out of the game any way possible,” USC forward Aleighsa Welch said. “Also, we tried to take away her production on the block. She’s great at ducking in and getting points in the paint. We felt like if we could take out of her comfort zone, we could be successful in cutting her production down.”
Offensively, the Gamecocks came out connecting at a blistering pace for them. They came in shooting less than 40 percent from the field but made 15-of-26 in the first half and used a 17-2 run to take control. They finished shooting 48.1 percent from the field.
“I think we came out with a lot of energy and were clicking on all cylinders,” Welch said. “Shots were falling, and when you get those first couple of shots to fall, it rattles down to the entire team. Everybody played well. We had people come in off the bench and gave production. It was positive energy with us and we were able to maintain that high level of play throughout the whole game, which has been kind of hard for us this season.”
The win improves South Carolina to 14-2 overall and 2-1 in the SEC. They halted the Commodores’ nine-game winning streak and handed them their first conference loss to fall to 12-4 overall and 2-1 in the SEC.
One of the heroes was senior guard Sancheon White. She was a terror on the defensive end with eight rebounds to go along with three steals and three blocks. She scored five points and dished out two assists for good measure.
The junior college transfer has put together three solid games to begin SEC play.
“I think it’s a lot to do with being my second year here,” White said. “I know what the coaches expect and they know what to expect from me. I try to lock in every day.”
The effort of White was not lost on Staley.
“I told Sancheon in the locker room if we had a game ball to give out, she would have gotten a game ball,” Staley said. “She certainly has taken the challenge of defending and shutting down our opponent’s best offensive player. She’s the quickest thing out there.”
Vanderbilt made it’s first 3-pointer in jumping to a 7-4 lead but USC came charging back with a 17-2 run to take control. That was the only 3-pointer the Commodores made in the half and they were limited to 4-of-20 from the floor overall. In the past three games against the Commodores, all South Carolina victories, the Gamecocks have limited Vanderbilt to 6-of-30 from the 3-point line.
“They do such a good job of being physical and making so much contact that when you do get open, No. 1, our timing is off because they pressure the basketball,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “When we had wide open shots, we weren’t knocking them down because the pass was poor. They just wear you down physically.”
Welch, who led the Gamecocks with 13 points, started the decisive first-half run with a rebound stickback. South Carolina made 11-of-13 shots during a 25-7 surge that saw them go up 29-14.
Ieasia Walker and Wilka Montout closed the run with consecutive 3-pointers.
The Gamecocks got a huge lift from their bench. All nine players on the roster scored and Elem Ibiam scored nine points to help the USC bench outscore the visitors 18-13.
South Carolina travels to Georgia on Sunday for a 1 p.m. tip.
Percentages: FG .265, FT .909. 3-Point Goals: 2-7, .286 (Brown 1-1, Lister 1-2, Foggie 0-4). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 2 (Clarke, Brown). Turnovers: 18 (Bowe 4, Lister 4, Brown 3, Foggie 3, Schrann 2, Clarke). Steals: 3 (Brown, Schrann, Foggie).
Percentages: FG .481, FT .500. 3-Point Goals: 3-12, .250 (Mitchell 1-1, Walker 1-3, Montout 1-3, Sessions 0-2, Dozier 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 7 (White 3, Bruner, Mitchell, Montout, Walker). Turnovers: 17 (Mitchell 5, Bruner 3, White 3, Walker 2, Ibiam 2, Dozier, Welch). Steals: 7 (Walker 3, White 3, Welch).
A: 2,810. Officials_Mark Zentz, Bill Larance, Jules Gallien.