Second WBB Scouting Report: South Carolina
Having defeated Louisiana State and Tennessee, the two teams tied for fourth place in the SEC, Vanderbilt can now move into sole possession of second place in the conference if it can win a rematch against the South Carolina squad that dealt the Dores their only SEC loss to date this season. Coach Melanie Balcomb has been able to coax great defensive performances from her team in home games this season. Keeping the Gamecocks in the low 60s should lead to another victory for VU, but it is clear that South Carolina has the low-post size that will be hard for the Commodores to contain. It will take all of Vanderbilt's energy to win this game; fortunately, the team has had a full week in which to rest and recharge for this second go-round with the Gamecocks.
There's no question that Vanderbilt has found a groove in home games this season. It's reasonable to claim that VU has surpassed the expectations of some SEC basketball pundits to this point in the season. Yet, if there's anything that should give the Dores a sense of urgency in this game, it's the very realization that they're running out of main-stage home games. The Texas A&M contest on Feb. 2 is a gigantic one, but VU will have to visit Tennessee and Kentucky before the SEC season's done. If the A&M is going to be a battle for the SEC lead, the Dores – for all their achievements to date – have to be able to continue to put in the work that will translate to another home-court win. They should be confident at home, but they can't allow themselves to become too comfortable – they must maintain their competitive fire, and that's Balcomb's job during a week in which the Dores have had to cool their jets for a few days.
SOUTH CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE
When a team comes across VU's schedule a second time, the scouting report will focus on what Vanderbilt's opponent has done since the first meeting of the season, which – in this case – occurred on Jan. 5.
What has South Carolina done since Jan. 5? The Gamecocks went 3-1, beating Kentucky, Auburn and Alabama while losing by two points at Texas A&M. South Carolina didn't allow more than 67 points in any of those games. If there was one regret the Gamecocks hold in their competitive bones and marrow, it is that they simply could not hit foul shots against A&M. South Carolina missed a majority of free throws – 11 of 21 – against A&M, falling by a bucket in overtime on the road. Free throws are a continuous problem for coach Dawn Staley's team. The Gamecocks hit only 18 of 30 charity pitches in the win over Kentucky. South Carolina is headed for another top-four seed in the NCAA tournament, but a 14-of-28 outing from the foul line is exactly how a round-of-32 game can turn into an upset loss. That kind of proficiency from the charity stripe won't give South Carolina a chance to beat a number one or two seed in a possible Sweet 16 game. Vanderbilt obviously has to handle South Carolina's size and must try to defend effectively, but if the Gamecocks have chances to get easy buckets and VU defenders can deny easy layups by fouling, the Dores will need to make South Carolina players hit pairs of foul shots in order to get two points.
What else happened for (and against) the Gamecocks in their games against Kentucky and Texas A&M, the two big moments for this team since the last time it faced VU?
Against Kentucky (Jan. 9), the Gamecocks blocked a whopping 14 shots. Yes, that's not a typo. Kentucky earned 13 more shot attempts, but South Carolina just kept swatting them away. Vanderbilt will (need to) be fully cognizant of the problems posed by the Gamecocks' tall trees near the tin.
Another feature of South Carolina's win over Kentucky was that it limited the Wildcats to 1-of-8 three-point shooting. However, that stat was tempered by the fact that Kentucky earned 22 free throws. South Carolina might not have won if Kentucky had hit a lot more foul shots. The Wildcats missed 10 of 22 tries from the free throw line in a game that ended with a nine-point margin (68-59, South Carolina). The Gamecocks defeated Kentucky in spite of their ballhandling. South Carolina committed 15 turnovers against the Wildcats.
Against Texas A&M, South Carolina continued to defend the three-point line well, allowing just two three-point makes to the Aggies. However, the Gamecocks were done in by free throws (as mentioned above) and turnovers. South Carolina surrendered 20 of them to A&M's tenacious defense. South Carolina outrebounded A&M by a 49-36 margin, but it was careless with the ball on all the extra possessions it gained. A&M racked up 9 steals, an appallingly large total for Staley and the rest of the South Carolina coaching staff. What makes South Carolina dangerous in this game against Vanderbilt is that foul shots and ball security are very correctable problems. If the Gamecocks substantially improve in those two areas, Vanderbilt will have its hands full.
Forward – Aleighsa Welch – Junior, 6-0; 2013-14: 13.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.2 apg
Welch's statistical averages have not changed very much over the past three weeks, but she's been this team's best player in big games. Welch scored 16 points and collected 14 rebounds against Kentucky. She then topped those totals by posting "20 and 16" against A&M.
Forward – Elem Ibiam – Junior, 6-4; 2013-14: 9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.5 blocked shots per game
Ibiam blocked 6 shots in the Gamecocks' win over Kentucky, and 4 against A&M. She pulled down 12 rebounds against the Aggies and continues to be a core part of this team's successes.
Guard – Tiffany Mitchell – Sophomore, 5-9; 2013-14: 15.4 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 3.5 assists per game, 2.4 steals per game
Mitchell continues to carry this team as a scorer. In the Gamecocks' two biggest games since Jan. 5 (the Kentucky-A&M pair that we've been examining), Mitchell averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds.
Guard – Asia Dozier – Sophomore, 6-0; 2013-14: 7.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.6 apg
Dozier's scoring is down almost a full point since Jan. 5, but her assists-per-game average is slightly up. She's looking a bit less for her shot and a little more for the pass.
Guard – Olivia Gaines – Junior, 5-7; 2013-14: 2.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.5 apg
Gaines is a placeholder starter who has replaced the team's previous placeholder starter, Tiffany Davis. If you recall from the previous South Carolina scouting report, original starting point guard Khadijah Sessions – who had been averaging 8.2 points and 3.8 assists per game – was injured just before Christmas, forcing Davis to step into the starting role. Davis was the fill-in for Sessions at first, but Gaines has been given more minutes in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Sessions has returned to the lineup and is getting 15 to 20 minutes of court time, for the most part. Tina Roy will also come off the bench, and can occasionally offer a bit of scoring punch.
The Gamecocks continue to bring center Alaina Coates off the bench, giving her roughly 20 minutes per game and not overloading her with work. This has kept her legs fresh, her mind clear, and her game effective. The 6-4 freshman is the third-best scorer on the team (12 points per game) and is pulling down 8.1 rebounds per game in 19.1 minutes per contest. In the win over Kentucky on Jan. 9, Coates scored 10 points, grabbed 17 boards, and blocked 4 shots. She's been terrific for South Carolina this season, and she was the reason the Gamecocks beat Vanderbilt the first time these teams played. Guess which player will have VU's full attention on Sunday?
Keys to the Game
1) Handle Coates-Ibiam-Welch on the defensive glass. South Carolina has three world-class rebounders on its roster. South Carolina might miss perimeter shots, but if it can chase down misses, it won't matter. Vanderbilt has such a tough task on its hands against South Carolina's size and power. If the Gamecocks don't get a lot of putback baskets, Vanderbilt's odds of winning will substantially improve.
2) Ball movement. South Carolina has multiple rim-protecting, shot-blocking oak trees, and it defends the three-point shot really well. Vanderbilt will simply have to display its best ball movement of the season.
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