Through 22 games, defending national champion South Carolina is perfect. The Gamecocks lead the country in categories like scoring defense (47 points allowed per game), blocks (9.9), point differential (35.2 points), field goal percentage defense (29%) and rebounding margin (21.9).
Last season, Aliyah Boston and company recorded two Ls on their schedule. The first was a 70-69 overtime loss at Missouri. The second was a 64-62 stunner in the SEC tournament championship game against Kentucky.
This season, South Carolina looks unbeatable — and has been so far this season. Only three teams have come within a single-digit margin, including No. 2 Stanford in OT.
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But with the Gamecocks’ two huge upcoming games to No. 5 UConn and current No. 3 LSU, we wondered: What would it take to knock off the No. 1 team?
Here are five not-so-easy steps teams should hope to combine in a recipe for an upset:
1. Hold the Gamecocks below 40% shooting
A solid defense is vital in possibly stopping South Carolina. In the Gamecocks’ two losses last season they shot well under their season average: 38.2% (vs. Missouri) and 33.3% (vs. Kentucky).
In January, Mississippi State held the Gamecocks to 30.3% field goal shooting and came within seven points. That margin marked the only SEC opponent within reach this season.
Playing lockdown defense on par with South Carolina is a ticket to staying in the game. Though that’s much easier said than done against a team with two players on the Defensive Player of the Year award watch list.
2. Play above the 3-point line
In both the Gamecocks’ losses last season, Missouri (46.7%) and Kentucky (43.1%) shot well from 3-point land. The Tigers made one more 3-pointer than the Gamecocks despite taking six fewer attempts.
Getting hot behind the arc gives a team a fighting chance to run the score against South Carolina’s tall, suffocating defense. UConn, South Carolina's next opponent, ranks second in the nation in 3-point percentage at 40.3%. Meanwhile, South Carolina ranks in the bottom half of the SEC in 3-point percentage; one of the only statistics that the Gamecocks fall in the lower percentile.
UCLA was one of three teams keep it close against South Carolina this season. While the Bruins didn’t shoot it well, they held the Gamecocks to 1-of-14 and 7.1% from 3. That game was tied 47-47 going into the fourth quarter before South Carolina notched a 26-point final quarter to seal the victory.
Pushing the Gamecocks out of the paint and forcing shots beyond the arc would give an opponent a fighting chance.
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3. Keep the Gamecocks off the offensive glass
Currently, South Carolina averages 18.5 offensive rebounds (second overall), 28.9 in opponent total rebounds (first) and 18.5 opponent defensive rebounds. That means the Gamecocks' opponents get as many defensive rebounds as South Carolina get on the offensive end.
In the Mississippi State game, the Bulldogs got outrebounded heavily 53-35 total and 22-7 offensive rebounds for 20 second-chance points.
Stanford’s 76-71 overtime loss was the closest win of South Carolina’s season so far. It was also one of the only times the Gamecocks got outrebounded (47-41). The Cardinal kept up in offensive rebounds 14-13, more than four rebounds shy of the Gamecocks' average.
4. Make Aliyah Boston work for it while containing Zia Cooke
The reigning national player of the year, Aliyah Boston (12.9 points, 10 rebounds) is a certified double-double and a two-way weapon no opponent wants to see.
South Carolina’s last two losses included Boston shooting below her season average, which grew from 54.2% to 60.1% from 2021-22 to this season. She’s seen every defense coverage this season from double-to-triple teams.
Boston’s scoring has dropped from 16.8 to 12.9 points, however, as she's taken fewer shots. Against the Bulldogs, Boston shot 5 for 13 and scored 12 points. But Zia Cooke scored a game-high 16 points in that match.
It’s no longer just controlling Boston on offense. Cooke tops South Carolina in points this season with 15.1 per game. Making Boston’s job harder and containing Cooke is a huge step to a possible upset.
In fact, the two closest games on South Carolina's schedule so far — Mississippi State and Stanford — are the games were Boston has the most field goal attempts, with 13 in each. So while some of that could be due to more playing time in a close game, Boston also shot below her season average in both.
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5. Hope South Carolina misses free throws
South Carolina is a physical team that scores a ton of points in the paint. Therefore, the Gamecocks shoot a lot of free throws for third in the SEC but sixth in free throw percentage.
Against Kentucky and Missouri last season, the Gamecocks shot less than 50% from the stripe. In particular, in the SEC championship, South Carolina missed eight free throws and lost by two points.
The Gamecocks boosted their percentage from 67.1% to 69.9% which is an improvement but remains a possible weakness for the reigning champions in a rare close game. For example, South Carolina shot 14 of 24 against Mississippi State, making that game much closer than it needed to be.