Super Sunday is coming. No not that one. Not the one in Arizona with all the expensive TV commercials and long halftime show.
Try Columbia, South Carolina, where the only two remaining unbeaten teams in Division I college basketball — male or female — come together. How compelling is LSU vs. South Carolina? How, in many ways . . . unique? A whole bunch of glowing numbers can do the answering.
◼️ South Carolina is 24-0. LSU is 23-0. Together they stand alone in terms of spotless record, no matter the gender. The only team in the country with one loss is the Indiana women. Every men’s team has at least two. The Connecticut women, who not that long ago had one defeat over a three-year stretch, just lost twice in four days. But these two teams have thundered on, perfectly. "Nobody is capable of beating them, they’re that good," LSU coach Kim Mulkey recently said of South Carolina. "You just hope that you can stay close."
◼️ Few do. South Carolina is outscoring its opponents by average margin of 82-48. Then again, LSU is outscoring its opponents by an average margin of 87-54.
◼️ South Carolina has beaten five opponents ranked by either the Associated Press or coaches, three of them on the road. The Gamecocks have won the five games by an average of 17.8 points and an average rebounding margin of plus-18.4. They have blocked nearly one quarter of all the shots taken by ranked foes.
◼️ In LSU’s first seven wins — 280 game minutes — the Tigers never trailed for one second. They have never been behind by double digits this entire season.
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◼️ South Carolina is first in the nation in scoring defense. None of the Gamecocks’ 24 opponents have reached their season average and only two of the 24 came within 10 points of it. The five ranked opponents were held 19.7 points beneath their norm. Stanford was held 20 under its usual score even though the game went overtime.
◼️ LSU is third in the nation in scoring offense, with Angel Reese’s 23.5 points fifth in the country. The Tigers began the season by breaking the 100-point barrier five consecutive games. To find a longer streak in Division I women’s basketball, you must go back to 1981-82 and the sport’s first NCAA national champion, Louisiana Tech. Who had a guard named Kim Mulkey.
◼️ South Carolina star Aliyah Boston has 76 career double-doubles. She just had her 34th against a ranked opponent with 26 points and 11 rebounds in the Connecticut win.
◼️ Reese has had double-doubles in all 23 LSU games. That includes 26 points and 28 rebounds against Texas A&M, 30 and 19 against Arkansas and 25 and 20 against Oregon State.
◼️ South Carolina outrebounds its opponents by an average of 21.6, the most in the nation. LSU outrebounds its opponents by an average of 20.5, the second most. Way back in third is Stanford at 14.3. The No 1 margin for the men, by the way, is Purdue at 12. That means a lot of muscle in the paint Sunday, but also the potential for fouls with all the banging. LSU has had a player foul out only four times this season but all four have come in the past five games.
◼️ In their 47 combined games for LSU and South Carolina, only nine have been decided by single digits. Each team has gone overtime once -- South Carolina with Stanford, LSU with Georgia. The Gamecocks have rallied four times from double-digit deficits this season – 12 to Stanford, 11 to Connecticut, 10 to UCLA and Kentucky. The Tigers’ biggest deficit has been nine points against Georgia.
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◼️ South Carolina is the deepest team in college basketball. Or maybe anything. The Gamecock reserves average 96 minutes and 40 points a game. Five of seven South Carolina’s scorers come off the bench. The Gamecocks have outscored their 11 SEC opponents 405-142 in bench points and blanked Connecticut 37-0. The South Carolina reserves have outscored the opponent’s starting lineup 13 times this season and their own starters 10 times. "They’re so very competitive that there’s no letdown. They don’t want to let each other down," coach Dawn Staley said. "The bench comes in and actually we get a little quicker. They play a little but faster. It’s cool to see the dynamics of what our team is comprised of."
◼️ It’s not so cool for anyone trying to stop South Carolina. This wave of Gamecocks means no one woman has to carry the burden. Boston is a contender to repeat as national player of the year and has been on the floor only 25 minutes a game, averaging 13.3 points. Zia Cooke is the leading scorer of an offense that puts up 82 points a night, but her 14.8 average is only tied for 172nd best in the nation.
◼️ But there’s more than one way to still be unbeaten in mid-February. LSU’s starting lineup averages 69.3 points a game, led by Reese. The five Tiger starters by themselves would be 105h in the nation in scoring offense.
◼️ South Carolina has played in four of the past seven Final Fours, winning two titles. LSU has not reached the Final Four since 2008, but that’s when the Tigers went to five in a row. They lost in the semifinals all five times, something Mulkey wants to change ASAP. "I can assure you," she said at her introductory press conference two years ago, "that’s what I came here to do."
◼️ South Carolina has beaten LSU 13 times in a row, but they have never met lately on these terms. "The pressure is not on us," Mulkey said in a radio interview this week. "We’re not supposed to be doing what we’re doing, but we’re doing it and let’s see what happens.
"I don’t view it as a rivalry in any way. No one is on their level, they’re that good. We’re just another SEC school that is trying to do what they have done."
◼️ South Carolina returned four starters from last season’s national champions and starts an ultra-veteran lineup of three seniors and two graduate students. That includes Victaria Saxton, who has been a team captain for four years.
◼️ LSU turned to the transfer portal after going 26-6 in Mulkey’s first season last year, including losing 66-60 to South Carolina and getting knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the second round. Three of the current Tigers starters were playing at Maryland (Reese), West Virginia (Jasmine Carson) and Missouri (LaDazhia Williams) last year. Second leading scorer Alexis Morris arrived in 2021 with LSU her fourth school. Guard Flau’jae Johnson is a freshman and was playing high school ball in Savannah, Georgia this time last winter. A talented musician, she's been on America's Got Talent.
◼️ South Carolina has one more offensive rebound than its opponents have defensive rebounds, meaning the Gamecocks get their hands on half their missed shots. LSU has made 94 more free throws than its opponents have attempted.
◼️ Staley and Mulkey are both in their 23rd seasons as a head coach. Staley has only eight losses in the past four years at South Carolina. Mulkey has only 34 defeats in her last 13 years at LSU and Baylor. A quarter-century ago, South Carolina needed a new coach for its women’s basketball program. The school came very close to hiring a Louisiana Tech assistant who seemed to have a lot of promise. Kim Mulkey.
◼️ South Carolina leads women’s basketball with an average home attendance of 12,473. That’s more than all but 21 men’s teams draw. LSU is seventh at 8,098, and attracted a crowd of more than 15,000 to watch the Tigers beat Tennessee.
All that glitter and dominance, and yet this is not No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the Associated Press rankings. Between the top-ranked Gamecocks and the No. 3 Tigers is a 23-1 Indiana team that keeps looking better and better, such as its 87-78 win over No. 5 Iowa Thursday night before a program record crowd of 13,046. For those who haven’t noticed that the Hoosiers have elbowed their way between the SEC juggernauts, coach Teri Moren had a thought this week: "If the national media doesn’t want to give us attention, we’re just going to allow our work to be our voices and the noise. We can’t get caught up in that."
After the Iowa win Thursday, she continued the theme. "As I said to these guys, we’re writing a story right now . . . so my charge to our team is not to let anybody else hold the pen. We need to be the ones who are going to write the story."
Still, the biggest story in the sport this weekend is unbeaten vs. unbeaten. "It’s right before (the) Super Bowl," Mulkey said, "so maybe we’ll get some of those casual football fans who don’t like women’s sports just to flip over between drinking beer and eating nachos."
Plus, Staley will be wearing her Philadelphia Eagles jersey on the sideline because she’s a torrid fan. "We’re going to win by four touchdowns," she said about Sunday. Presumably she meant the Eagles and not the Gamecocks.