NOV 28, 2016 for Excelle Sports
It’s not everyday that athletes get the chance to play in a match near the epicenter of basketball history, but that’s exactly what happened when eight college women’s teams faced off Sunday for the fourth annual Women’s Challenge just two miles from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
The most anticipated game: The marquee matchup between the No. 4–ranked Louisville Cardinals (6–0) and the No. 3 South Carolina Gamecocks (4–0), who tipped off for the first time since 1991. For this game, the pressure was on: After a disappointing exit from the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament last season, South Carolina has been on a mission to get back to the Big Dance and extend its all-time series record (16–4). As for Louisville, it looked to ride a recent hot streak largely thanks to the play of junior Mariya Moore and sophomore guard Asia Durr.
[More from Excelle Sports: The crazy synergy between Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray that could lead South Carolina to a title]
But the game did not go in the Cardinals’ favor: After losing the first quarter 20–18, South Carolina sobered up, taking Louisville to task on the court by keeping early-scorer Durr at bay and eventually trouncing Louisville 83–59.
“[South Carolina coach Dawn Staley] made us defend [Durr] differently,” said the Gamecocks star forward, A’ja Wilson, after the game.
“We knew a lot goes through [Durr],” added Staley, a member of the Hall of Fame. “It was key [for] us to make her work for everything, maybe deny her touches and crowd her space a bit.”
The only downside to this tactic was early foul trouble—South Carolina collected 20 personal fouls, nearly double its average. But with her guards in foul trouble, Wilson became a focal point for the offense.
“I know when I was in foul trouble, seeing that my team had my back gave me that fire inside to keep working at it,” Wilson said. “So, I want to make it the same for them.”
Despite the loss, the Cardinals were encouraged by their performance. “We worked hard, but until you get the ball, it doesn’t matter,” said forward/guard Moore, referring to the inconsistent rebounding of the Cardinals. Louisville conceded 20-second chance points and 16 offensive rebounds.
And even though the Gamecocks won, Staley said she’d like to see more discipline on both sides of the ball. “Defensively, I don’t think we’re where we need to be,” she said after the game. “We’re getting by with just patching it together.”
[More from Excelle Sports: Q&A: South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley on her storied career and her ultimate goal]
On the offensive side, while Staley wants her team to be more selective, she said she was encouraged by Sunday’s performance. “We’re slowly getting to know each other … It’s a great start to a tough week for us.”
Next up, the Gamecocks will face the Texas Longhorns in Austin this Thursday, while the Cardinals will play the Maryland Terrapins at home on the same night.