Women bury Seton Hall with strong second half
Just when South Carolina's women's basketball team appeared to face its first real challenge of the season, the Gamecocks used a strong second-half to turn its game against Seton Hall Sunday afternoon into a blowout.
Behind double-digit scoring outputs from five players -- Elem Ibiam (18), Khadijah Sessions (17), Aleighsa Welch (15), Tiffany Mitchell (15), and Alaina Coates (10) -- No. 21 South Carolina downed Seton Hall 88-67 in front of a healthy Colonial Life Arena crowd to stay unbeaten on the season.
The Gamecocks move to 4-0 with the win, while the Pirates' first loss of the season drops them to 3-1.
The Gamecocks led the Pirates 41-39 after a physical, back-and-forth first half that included seven lead changes, four ties and no leads of more than six points. South Carolina struggled at times against Seton Hall's 2-3 zone, but moved the ball well on offense, matched the Pirates' intensity and took advantage of their chances from the free throw line.
The half was often chippy, with Seton Hall -- perhaps enticed by South Carolina's 52 percent free throw percentage entering the game -- committing 16 first-half fouls to the Gamecocks' five. But the Gamecocks stayed composed to knock down 21 of their 27 attempts from the charity stripe.
The Gamecocks removed all doubt in the second half, exorcising their demons against the 2-3 zone by penetrating and dishing the ball with ease. South Carolina went on a 16-4 run after the break and never relinquished the lead, draining nearly 74 percent of their second-half field goal attempts while stifling the Pirates to 35.5 percent shooting from the field.
"I thought we tightened things up from an offensive standpoint," Staley said of South Carolina's second-half performance. "Pretty pleased that we were calculating and getting the type of shots that we wanted."
South Carolina's second-half dominance also resulted from defensive adjustments Staley made at halftime. Two Pirate players, forward Tabatha Richardson-Smith and point Ka-Deidre Simmons, had combined for 29 of Seton Hall's 39 first-half points, so Staley shifted South Carolina's focus to containing those two players.
One of those adjustments was assigning 6-foot-0 forward Aleighsa Welch to guard the 5-foot-8 Simmons. Simmons would score just five points in the second-half.
"I thought that the point guard was key," Staley said. "I think she's the engine that makes them go, and we put Aleighsa on her. Just a bigger body to obstruct her vision and make her get rid of the ball and make someone else make some plays."
Staley said she was satisfied to see that her team is capable of having five players scoring in double figures.
"I think the difference between this year's team and last year's team is that everybody can score," Staley said. "There isn't anybody that people can just totally lay off because they all can shoot from the outside. People can just pick their poison."
In a game where South Carolina was successful in nearly every area, the Gamecocks made use of their opportunity to improve their free throw shooting, one of South Carolina's few weaknesses to be exposed this season.
"We've been practicing them," Staley said. "We've been just trying to get some more reps with it. A couple of them did get in the gym and work at it individually. I think it's going to be a crapshoot night in and night out, but I'm glad we hit more than we did last time. We got to the line two more times than we did the last game, so hopefully we're getting better at being more efficient there because we are getting there."
Up next for the Gamecocks is a road trip to Clemson to face the Tigers at 7 p.m. next Wednesday.
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