COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Dawn Staley sees no reason to be alarmed.
The Gamecocks embrace a big battle tonight in Texas against Oregon State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The winner advances to the Sweet 16.
Carolina’s offense in the first round flowed through the bigs, not their talented guards.
“I thought what Mercer did was play percentages,” said Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley. “They took our two guards and denied them the ball.”
The Bears plan ultimately backfired. Carolina’s inside presence ruled the day, with Aliyah Boston, Laeticia Amihere, and Victaria Saxton scoring 51 points combined. In the end, the Bears picked their poison, and it didn’t pan out.
“It actually got Victaria going,” added Staley. “That was a pretty good strategy on our part. If you take one thing away, you’re going to create a mismatch somewhere else.”
Saxton matched a career-high with 20 points against Mercer.
Guards Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson were relatively quiet in the Gamecocks’ 26-point win against the Bears. Henderson was held scoreless. Cooke scored 13, all in the second half.
Some of that was by design, based on Mercer’s defensive strategy. Staley likes how Cooke adjusted to find her footing in round one.
“Zia did show a lot of maturity,” Staley said. “Zia sometimes feels like she relies too heavily on her scoring. Sometimes you got to be a decoy and make them forget about you so that you can impact the game somewhere else.”
Cooke did. And Gamecock fans should not worry about Henderson either. She finished the opener of the tournament with four assists and four steals.
Tonight’s challenge against OSU starts with their size. Carolina’s bigs meet a pair of 6′9 forwards on the other side. The Gamecocks, though, know how to win inside, ranking third nationally in rebound margin.
The Beavers ousted Florida State, 83-59, in the opening round. Staley calls OSU’s offensive approach, ‘super calculated.’ They’ll test Carolina’s ball screen defense.
“There’s no fat in their offense,” Staley said. “You either going to guard it, their initial option. If you don’t, they will take it to the basket. They got counters to their counters. We have to put ourselves in a position where we’re not triggering a lot of help.”
Staley adds the key is for Carolina to utilize its speed and play in transition. And force the Beavers to play on the other side of the ball.
A win tonight will mark Staley’s eighth trip to the Sweet 16 with Carolina, 11th overall for the Gamecock program.