UConn’s women will be the new No. 1 team in the country next week after handing Dawn Staley and South Carolina its first loss of the season in a dominant 87-62 win.
South Carolina’s loss leaves just one undefeated team in women’s college basketball, Princeton, to join Kentucky as the only unbeaten teams in country.
Facing Geno Auriemma and the UConn Huskies at home does something to these high-profile foes. It’s almost haunting, the way these top-ranked, or even undefeated, teams can showcase a certain level of dominance against all of its opponents only to be humbled in Gampel Pavilion.
The program that Dawn Staley has been building for six seasons at South Carolina has seemingly reached its peak. The Gamecocks captured the SEC title last season and reached the No. 1 spot in the polls in each of the last two seasons while getting off to an undefeated start to 2014-15. Maintaining this success, particularly in the SEC, is not an unrealistic expectation. Removing UConn from its throne on top of the spot will take some more time, though.
Turnover and mistakes in the first half created an early deficit for South Carolina, one that paired with a sense of dread as the rowdy home crowd pushed Breanna Stewart and the rest of the UConn stars.
The Gamecocks were able to get extra opportunities after contested shots thanks to the offensive boards, but South Carolina’s size advantage inside was eventually negated by UConn’s efforts to push the tempo.
“We knew that they didn’t want to run with us,” Stewart told ESPN after the game. “We kept pushing it and kept pushing it and eventually they got tired. We could tell that, and then we went on a run.”
Games like these are one of the few games where Stewart and her fellow starters can expect to see significant floor time instead of spending the second half on the bench. The Huskies looked engergized by the opportunity, and the resounding win was somewhat of a course-correction following a season of tracking South Carolina’s undefeated start and doubting the Huskies after their first, and only, loss of the season to Stanford.
If South Carolina is lucky, there will be another opportunity to beat UConn. If they meet in the NCAA tournament it will be away from the hallowed halls where champions have dropped contenders one after the next with little resistance. Maybe in that situation Geno Auriemma’s team would appear more beatable, because right now it does not look like anyone has a chance at taking down the champs in Storrs.