Vie. Feb 23rd, 2024

The South Carolina-LSU women’s college basketball matchup everyone was looking forward to turned into a down-to-the-wire thriller. But the outcome kept the status quo for the 2023-24 season. The No. 1 Gamecocks overcame a strong effort from the No. 9 Tigers for a 76-70 victory Thursday before a full house at Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Fans arrived early, and there was great anticipation for what coaches Dawn Staley and Kim Mulkey would be wearing. The ESPN College GameDay crew got into the spirit by eagerly shredding a Bayou King Cake in search of the lucky baby.

LSU led by six points after the first quarter and by five at halftime. However, after dominating most of their games this season, the Gamecocks showed their ability to rally, outscoring the Tigers by 10 points in the fourth quarter.

That included two huge 3-pointers in the last three minutes by Gamecock junior guard Bree Hall. They were her only two makes of the game from behind the arc and came at crunch time.

All five starters for both teams scored in double figures. LSU star Angel Reese fouling out with just over four minutes left was a key moment.

The Gamecocks have just one other currently ranked team left on their regular-season schedule: No. 8 UConn on Feb. 11. LSU doesn’t have any. It’s an odd season in the SEC with just two teams ranked in late January. Will we see a Gamecocks-Tigers rematch in the SEC tournament? Probably. And in the NCAA tournament? Possibly.

We break down the show and what it told us about both teams.

LSU led most of the game before South Carolina took the lead in the fourth quarter. How did the Gamecocks rally to stay undefeated?

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South Carolina puts LSU away with Raven Johnson’s clutch basket

No. 1 South Carolina remains undefeated after finishing strong on the road against No. 9 LSU.

Creme: More than anything, the Gamecocks remained poised. To come back on the road in that environment takes composure. Did you notice Staley on the sideline? Her expression never changed despite the game’s intensity. She was calm, and so was her team. With the opposing crowd whipped into a frenzy, South Carolina was able to execute the offense the way it would in practice.

That’s why the Gamecocks were able to make six of their last seven shots. Hall’s wide-open 3-pointers were the two biggest. Kamilla Cardoso didn’t panic when she caught the ball in the post, and the LSU defense converged. She made the right decision finding Hall, and the passes were on the mark. Hall is a 48.5% 3-point shooter on the season (she was 2-for-4 from beyond the arc Thursday). Get her open like that, and it’s no surprise she delivered in the biggest moments.

Voepel: Becoming a better 3-point shooting team was a huge point of emphasis this season by Staley. That was a must-fix for the Gamecocks after last season’s national semifinal loss to Iowa. And Staley has done so with personnel she added on the playing and coaching sides.

The Gamecocks were 7 of 20 from behind the arc Thursday. Along with Hall’s door-slammers in the fourth quarter, the 3 that MiLaysia Fulwiley hit just before the halftime buzzer changed the tone and momentum going into the locker room. And as Charlie said, South Carolina kept its cool and didn’t make mistakes. This was a game where a few miscues at the wrong time made all the difference, and those were by LSU.

In addition to Reese fouling out with 4:02 remaining, what went wrong for LSU in the fourth quarter?

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Bree Hall flushes a go-ahead 3 for South Carolina

South Carolina takes the lead after Bree Hall drowns a 3-pointer.

Creme: That really was the tipping point. LSU led 67-65 when Reese picked up her fifth. The Gamecocks outscored the Tigers 11-3 the rest of the way. Somewhat neutralized by South Carolina’s size, Reese was still the Tigers’ second-leading scorer with 15 points, and she had eight rebounds.

Without the biggest threat down low, LSU stopped trying to get the ball inside. The Tigers’ next five possessions were jump shots. Hailey Van Lith’s 3-pointer that temporarily tied the score at 70 was the only one that went in. LSU had also dominated the glass in the first half. That disappeared in the fourth quarter when South Carolina held a 12-4 edge. Missed jump shots with no offensive rebounding was an untimely bad combination for the Tigers.

Voepel: The Tigers’ offense went awry — a credit to South Carolina. LSU scored just 6 points in the last 5½ minutes and made costly errors. Reese being out for those remaining minutes was big, but the Tigers also had a turnover by Van Lith, a failed putback by Aalyah Del Rosario and just one shot attempt by Aneesah Morrow in the final four minutes, although she led the team with 16 points and was 7 of 11 from the field.

What’s one thing you learned about each team — good or bad — in Thursday’s game?

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Aneesah Morrow fires up the crowd with a big block

Aneesah Morrow fires up the crowd after blocking Bree Hall’s layup attempt.

Creme: Despite the loss, LSU was impressive. Except for North Carolina in the first quarter of their Nov. 30 meeting with the Gamecocks, no team has had South Carolina on its heels like this. The talent that most of us felt in the preseason was the best in the country was on display for much of this game. But that talent is relegated to the starting five. If Reese hadn’t fouled out, LSU’s starters would have all played well over 30 minutes. Mulkey didn’t really trust her bench in a big moment. That was telling and could be an issue in March.

This game also showed South Carolina can be had, but it will take 40 minutes of execution to do it. The Tigers had about 36 minutes of winning basketball in them. Even at home, that isn’t enough against the Gamecocks. South Carolina has multiple ways to win. This time it had nothing to do with the Gamecocks’ dominance, and everything to do with shot-making and execution when it counted.

Voepel: We knew coming in that South Carolina had the deeper bench. It showed Thursday with the Gamecocks getting 16 points and nine rebounds from Fulwiley, Sania Feagin and Ashlyn Watkins, who combined were 7 of 10 from the floor. When you have that with a starting five that is playing really well together, it’s hard to hold off the Gamecocks, even for a team with as much talent as LSU.

Kudos to starter Chloe Kitts, who had 14 points on 6 of 9 shooting and forced the LSU defense to pay attention. You can tell from games like this how much Kitts benefited from her freshman season last year competing in practice against former South Carolina superstar Aliyah Boston, who was courtside to root for the Gamecocks.

South Carolina remains No. 1 overall in Bracketology. What does this loss do to LSU?

Creme: The Gamecocks had firmly established themselves as the best team in the country. A loss on the road against a top-10 conference rival wasn’t going to change that. Win or lose, South Carolina was going to remain the No. 1 overall team.

LSU had plenty to gain with a win — a jump from a No. 3 to a No. 2 seed. That won’t happen, but the Tigers won’t drop, either. They showed the committee more Thursday than they have in most of their 18 wins. LSU was ninth overall — the top No. 3 seed — and the Tigers will remain a No. 3 seed in ESPN’s full Bracketology update on Friday despite the loss.

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