The last time South Carolina women’s basketball visited Columbia, Missouri, they were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country.
Since then, the Gamecocks have won 64 consecutive regular season games. In order to get win number 65 in a row, however, they had to go back to mid-Missouri and exorcise the demons of 2021. Despite SCAR’s talent superiority and Mizzou being without Mama Dembele, Averi Kroenke and Angelique Ngalakoulandi, history was on the side of the Tigers.
Unfortunately, history stayed history, as South Carolina rolled to a 81-57 victory in large part due to a 20-5 Gamecock run at the end of the first half. The win moved them to 15-0, while Mizzou dropped to 9-7.
“Tonight felt a lot like the LSU game,” forward Hayley Frank said. “We felt like we didn’t bring that same edge.”
Hannah Linthacum picked up two fouls in the first 21 seconds of action, forcing Abby Feit into the game early and Hayley Frank onto the 6’7” Kamilla Cardoso. But as South Carolina began taking advantage of Mizzou’s lack of size, the Tigers were able to keep up with productive offense themselves. Grace Slaughter knocked down a pair of triples, and a pair of Hayley Frank charges created two extra possessions for Mizzou. The Gamecocks led 11-10 at the first media timeout.
Then, South Carolina’s defense tightened up. They forced two shot clock violations from Mizzou, and another Slaughter three-pointer ended up being the only points the Tigers would score the rest of the period. South Carolina led 18-13 after the opening frame.
The second quarter saw Mizzou come out hot. After Cardoso put in a layup, Mizzou went on a scoring run. Hayley Frank converted a step-through off the glass for two, then a three-pointer. Ashton Judd knocked down a pair of free throws, and Hilke Feldrappe responded to a Te-Hina Paopao triple with one of her own. The 10-3 scoring run put Mizzou up 23-21.
That’s when South Carolina took control.
One aspect of SCAR that makes them dangerous is their scoring balance. Entering Thursday, they had seven players averaging at least nine points per game, and it showed at the end of the first half. After Feldrappe’s three-pointer, the Gamecocks went on a 20-5 run over the final six minutes; their scoring run featured five different players registering at least one basket.
Bree Hall led SCAR in scoring with 16 points on a perfect 6/6 shooting. After the Gamecocks shot 1/6 from downtown in the first quarter, they ended the half with a clip of 5/7. Mizzou, on the other hand, struggled to generate open looks, as they shot 2/9 over the final six minutes. The road Columbians led 41-28 at the half.
The third quarter saw Mizzou slowly chip away at South Carolina’s lead. On back-to-back possessions, Frank came off of a down screen and drilled a three to pull Mizzou within seven. Paopao converted a layup, but Judd responded on the other end with an and-one layup. After some more back-and-forth, Frank rattled home another triple to cut the lead to five.
However, the Gamecocks were able to pull away after Frank’s fourth three-pointer. Another Hall jumper catalyzed a 12-3 Gamecock run, and the road team ended the third quarter up 59-46.
The fourth quarter saw South Carolina shut the door. While both teams traded baskets to start the quarter, the Gamecocks were already up by enough to where a back-and-forth basket battle was a-ok. Then, they really shut the door, ending the game on an 11-2 run. The undefeated Gamecocks stayed undefeated with an 81-57 win.
Frank and Judd led the Tigers in scoring with 16 points apiece; Slaughter also registered double-digits with 12 points of her own. For South Carolina, they had four players register double-digit scoring numbers; Hall led the way with a career-high 21 points on 8/10 shooting. The junior, who saw limited action in her first two seasons at SCAR, has become an integral part of the rotation, as Thursday’s performance was her eighth game with 10+ points.
“She’s proving why experience...it’s a real thing,” South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said about Hall. “Now that she’s a junior, I don’t say anything to her. I really don’t. She knows exactly what to do, and she leads.”
There were a handful of factors that sunk the Tigers. Despite shooting an efficient 10/22 from downtown (including 9/18 through three quarters), Mizzou shot a dismal 9/30 from inside the arc. The 15-point swing at the end of the first half also propelled SCAR; the Tigers went on one too many cold shooting spells, while the Gamecocks continued capitalizing on the other end.
The absences of Dembele, Kroenke and Ngalakoulandi were also clearly felt. A shutdown perimeter stopper and rhythm-disruptor like Dembele would’ve been helpful against SCAR’s perimeter talent, especially Hall, who was in-rhythm all night.
“It definitely felt a little different out there,” Frank said.
From the opposing team’s perspective, Staley concurred.
“I thought we capitalized on Mama being out. She’s the leader. She is someone who pushes tempo for them. She can score, she can facilitate, she can manage. You can’t really pressure her...she keeps you honest. I thought the fact that we didn’t have to face her tonight really helped us.”
Ngalakoulandi’s size also would’ve helped against Cardoso, especially after Linthacum picked up two lightning-quick fouls. Kroenke, along with Dembele, would’ve been a stabilizing presence at the one; instead, Abbey Schreacke had to make her first start against the top-ranked team in the country. She struggled to find a groove offensively, as she registered just three points on 1/7 shooting, including a 1/5 clip from three. However, she battled on the glass, coming up with six rebounds, and she turned the ball over just once despite playing 36 minutes as lead ball-handler.
“Schreacke was in a tough spot,” head coach Robin Pingeton said. “She’s such a warrior. She’s such a fighter. She didn’t shoot the ball particularly well tonight, but did a lot of good things for us.”
The Tigers will travel to Nashville for their next game to battle with red-hot Vanderbilt (16-1) on Sunday, Jan. 11 at 7 PM.