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Mike Lopresti | | February 24, 2022

17 reasons that get right to why this Dawn Staley South Carolina team is so darn good

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The South Carolina women are rolling. That’s not exactly breaking news, but is it understood by the outside world how golden this age has become for them?

With the final weekend of the regular season at hand, time to let the numbers do the talking about the Gamecocks. Here are 17 ways South Carolina is special:

1. The Gamecocks are seeking to go wire-to-wire; No. 1 every week in the Associated Press poll with a national championship at the end of the rainbow. It’s been done 10 times by five different schools, but Connecticut and Baylor are the only programs to pull it off this century. And with South Carolina, we’re talking No. 1 by a landslide. Of the 480 votes cast over 16 weeks this season, they have not been No. 1 on only 38 ballots.

By the way, No. 1 in women's basketball means something in March. The top-ranked team has won 10 of the past 12 national championships. It’s a different world than the men, where there have been only two No. 1-ranked champions in the past 25 years — Kentucky in 2012 and Duke in 2001.

2. The Gamecocks are 11-0 against ranked opponents, with an average winning margin of 13.6 points. They have trailed in the second half in only four of those 11 games, and the biggest deficit they have faced in the fourth quarter is two.

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3. The SEC is loaded with five ranked teams and nine schools destined for the NCAA tournament, according to Autumn Johnson's projections on Against this steely competition, South Carolina’s average winning margin is 19.4 and its rebound margin is 18.4. The Gamecocks have been particularly dominant at points in the paint: 54-22 against Kentucky, 54-24 over Alabama and — egads — 44-4 over Vanderbilt.

4. South Carolina is 25-1, and never trailed a second in 12 of the games. In seven others, the Gamecocks were never behind by more than three points.

5. Junior All-American Aliyah Boston has double-doubles in 19 consecutive games. Against Texas A&M, she reached a double-double in 13 minutes. She took 13 shots against North Carolina A&T and made them all. Back in her freshman days, she didn’t have a double-double the first game of her career. Instead, she had a triple-double — 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocked shots against Alabama State. Welcome to college, kid.

6. Yeah, the Gamecocks have lost a game. By one point in the final 0.1 seconds of overtime at Missouri. The voters, knowing an anomaly when they saw it, didn’t even bother to drop them from No. 1.

7. South Carolina has scored 1,419 points in the first three quarters this season. Its opponents have scored 1,328, total.

8. The Gamecocks held Vanderbilt to 30 points in a game, Florida to 13 in a half, and Connecticut to three in the fourth quarter. That’s one of 26 quarters this season where South Carolina’s defense allowed only single digits.

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9. The Gamecocks have put up some truly impressive stats against some of their sternest competition, outscoring Maryland in the paint 42-22, Stanford in points off turnovers 26-6 and Connecticut in second-chance points 17-2.

10. They lead the nation in field-goal percentage, rebound margin and blocked shots. They have 215 of the latter, which means one of every 7.3 field-goal attempts by the other side has been swatted. They have out-rebounded 12 opponents by at least 20.

11. It’s a big deal when any player reaches 1,000 points in career scoring. South Carolina has had three do it this season, two in the same game. Boston and Zia Cooke reached the landmark during the Maryland game in December, Destanni Henderson a month later.

12. Brea Beal is the defensive ace usually tasked with the other team’s most dangerous scorer. She has allowed her assigned opponents to reach their scoring average in only six games.

13. The Gamecocks filled the house with 18,000 fans for their final home game against Tennessee. Their average attendance of 12,714 is the best in women’s college basketball by more than 3,000 a game. It is higher than 340 Division I men’s programs.

14. They’re not perfect. They’re 289th in the nation in free-throw percentage, and 253rd in turnover margin, though the turnovers have improved lately.

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15. South Carolina’s dominance can’t be called a shocker. Not with 11 McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster and four in the starting lineup. The only non-McDonald’s starter is Victaria Saxton, and she’s been a team captain for three seasons. So there are a lot of prep All-Americans coming off the bench, too. The Gamecock reserves have supplied nearly 21 points a game in SEC play.

16.  And to think, this might not even be the Dawn Staley’s best team this decade. One can only wonder what the 2020 Gamecocks might have done had not the pandemic wiped out the NCAA tournament. Before March went dark, South Carolina was 32-1 with an average winning margin of 25.9 points. Only six games had been decided by single digits.

Domination then, domination now. Only now, there’s a tournament to be played.

About that, one last item . . .

17. The Gamecocks were down 17 early in the second half against Stanford. But what’s more significant: That deficit, or the fact South Carolina outscored the No. 2 team in the nation by 21 points over the last 19:50 and limited the Cardinal to 19 points in the second half?

The 65-61 final on their homecourt kept the Gamecocks No. 1 but set up considerable intrigue for a possible rematch when it matters most, presumably in Minneapolis in early April. The numbers this season are so indisputably decisive for South Carolina. Except when you throw in Stanford. Then the numbers don’t seem quite as sure.

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