Staley previews UConn showdown as Gamecocks change plans to face Huskies
COLUMBIA, S.C. – No. 12/13 South Carolina travels to No. 5/5 UConn for its annual top-15 matchup against the Huskies (21-2, 10-0 AAC). Tipoff Monday night on ESPN2 is set for 7 p.m. with the Gamecocks (17.5, 9-1 SEC) looking to carry the momentum of a five-game SEC win streak into the non-conference matchup.
SOUTH CAROLINA NOTABLES
Tonight’s game features two of the most sure-handed point guards in the nation in South Carolina’s Tyasha Harris and UConn’s Crystal Dangerfield. Both are among the nation’s top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio with Dangerfield coming in eight (3.23) and Harris in ninth (3.22). Leveling the field to evaluate their play against just ranked opponents – UConn has faced five, South Carolina seven – Harris comes out on top with a 2.9 assist-to-turnover ratio and 3.3 assists per game, while Dangerfield has turned in a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio and 2.6 assists per game.
South Carolina’s offense is among the most diverse in the country with 10 Gamecocks leading the team in scoring at least once this season, including eight who have done it in SEC play. Averaging 75.8 points per SEC game, Carolina is second in the league in scoring but there are just two Gamecocks among the SEC’s top-30 scorers in league play, although seven Gamecocks have scored 15 or more points at least once through 10 league games. In the last five games, six Gamecocks scored in double figures at least twice and five averaged at least 10.0 points.
The Gamecocks have scored 43.0 points per game in the paint over the last four outings with that production coming nearly as much from guards (18.5 ppg) as forwards (24.5).
Senior forward Alexis Jennings has been the most consistent producer for the Gamecocks over the last five contests, averaging 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds and shooting 57.4 percent. She has two double-doubles during the stretch.
Junior point guard Tyasha Harris guided the Gamecocks since midway through her freshman year, expanding her game every season along the way. In addition to her 4.7 assists per game – she’s handed out five or more in the last five games and seven of the last eight – she leads the team in 3-point shooting with 29 triples on a career-high accuracy of 37.2 percent en route to 10.2 points per game.
BY THE NUMBERS
2 Gamecock freshmen averaging 15.5 points per game over the last two outings – Henderson, Saxton
7 Gamecocks who have scored 15 or more points in an SEC game at least once this season
8 Straight games in which the Gamecocks have scored at least 70 points
10 Games Carolina has played against top-50 RPI teams this season – third-most in the country
13.8 Points per game by Alexis Jennings over the last five outings, best on the team in that stretch
UCONN SERIES NOTES
The Huskies have won all seven games of the series, including six in the Dawn Staley era. Two of the games saw the teams square off as the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the nation, including the Gamecocks toting the nation’s top spot in the 2015 meeting at Gampel Pavilion.
The Gamecocks and Huskies met twice last season, including the NCAA Elite Eight.
With a 3-4 mark so far season, South Carolina is 62-56 against nationally ranked opponents under head coach Dawn Staley, although that record is skewed by the early seasons of her tenure.
The Gamecocks are 47-17 versus ranked foes since the start of the 2014-15 campaign. South Carolina is 18-13 against top-10 opponents during that time, including a 4-8 mark against top-five foes.
Junior guard Te’a Cooper is the leading scorer in the Gamecocks’ seven games against ranked opponents with 17.7 points per game to go with a team-high 3.3 assists per game. With that combination of scoring and assisting, she has her hands on 25.3 points per game against ranked teams.
Senior forward Alexis Jennings is also especially effective against the toughest opponents on the Gamecocks’ schedule. She averages 10.6 points and 8.0 rebounds in those seven games.
HERE’S A HEALTH, CAROLINA
As the South Carolina alma mater toasts the health of the University, Gamecock fans are certainly toasting the health of their women’s basketball team this season as the Gamecocks have finally been able to show the team Staley envisioned them being at the start of the season.
With seniors Alexis Jennings and Bianca Cuevas-Moore slowed in the offseason preseason by knee injury recovery, it took some time for the Gamecocks to find their chemistry. The group finally found its stride in SEC play, especially when Cuevas-Moore was able to join the starting lineup against Florida (Jan. 10).
The current starting lineup – Cuevas-Moore, Te’a Cooper, Tyasha Harris, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Alexis Jennings – is 6-1 record behind a stingy defense and a higher octane offense than in the three SEC games with a different starting lineup. Those seven games include three against ranked opponents.
Freshman forward Victaria Saxton was a top-50 recruit in the 2018 class and has shown coachability and athleticism. She logged the most minutes of the three freshmen in the season opener at Alabama State (Nov. 11), hitting 4-of-5 from the field and picking up three steals in her 20 minutes on the court.
While Saxton continues to work on getting stronger in the post, her confidence has grown through the season. She averages 4.5 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, making the biggest impact on the defensive end where she ranks seventh in the SEC with 1.3 blocked shots per game.
Saxton has been on a tear recently, earning SEC Freshman of the Week honors on Feb. 5 and moving into 13th in the SEC with 2.3 offensive rebounds per league game and into the team lead with a .640 field goal percentage on the season.
In the last five games, Saxton has averaged 7.4 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 78.9 percent from the field and blocking 1.4 shots per game. A bulk of that production has come in the last two outings, during which she has poured in 15.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per game on 12-of-14 (.857) shooting.
Freshman Destanni Henderson was a key part of head coach Dawn Staley shaking up the starting lineup in mid-December as the young guard’s poise in decision-making in practice led to her drawing the start at Purdue (Dec. 16).
Henderson averaged 6.4 points and 1.6 assists during her five games in a starting role. After initially struggling with her return to coming off the bench beginning with the game against Florida (Jan. 10), the level-headed guard has re-established her impact on the team.
In the last two games, the freshman has averaged 15.5 points on 11-of-17 (.647) shooting, including 6-of-11 (.545) from 3-point range, and 3.5 assists.
Overall on the season, Henderson averages 5.4 points and 1.2 assists per game while shooting a 36.6 percent (15-of-41) from 3-point range.
Henderson signed with the Gamecocks as the No. 9 overall recruit and the top point guard in the Class of 2018.