No. 3 LSU and No. 1 South Carolina To Meet In Columbia In Matchup Of Unbeatens
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Sunday’s LSU Women’s Basketball game at South Carolina in a sold-out Colonial Life Arena will be a matchup of the nation’s final two unbeaten teams at 1 p.m. CT on ESPN in a clash in Columbia.
The teams have been on a collision course for a late-season bout, the first AP top three matchup in the SEC since 1993, since conference play began, and it is one of the most highly anticipated LSU games ever. Off to the best start in program history, the Tigers will look for their first win in Columbia since 2010 to keep their win-streak alive. It is the second longest active win streak in the country behind South Carolina’s 30 game streak.
“We’re a confident bunch,” Coach Kim Mulkey said. “We know who we are. We don’t pretend to be South Carolina. But let’s go see what we have to do to reach that South Carolina, elite level.”
LSU and South Carolina both rank towards the top of many statistical categories. They are two of the top 10 highest scoring teams in the country that both feature top scoring defenses. Both teams hit the boards hard, hovering around 50 rebounds per game apiece, that have the top two rebounding margins in the country. LSU and South Carolina also have the two best scoring margins in the country.
“You keep perspective,” Coach Mulkey said. “We’re not going to get too high or too low over one game. We’re excited that we get to be apart of something that’s good for basketball. We know that we are not supposed to win. Nobody else has beaten them, but we’re not just going to throw in the white flag. That’s just not what competitors do. We’re going to give it every effort we can.”
Before the Super Bowl kicks off at 5:30 p.m., Sunday’s game in Columbia will wrap up and there will only be one unbeaten team left standing. LSU at South Carolina on ESPN with Courtney Lyle, Carolyn Peck and Holly Rowe. Patrick Wright and Shaeeta Williams will call the game on the LSU Sports Radio Network, 107.3 FM in Baton Rouge.
With nine new pieces on Coach Mulkey’s second season at LSU, the Tigers have surged, led by Angel Reese who was ranked the nation’s top transfer over the summer. She has a double-double in all 23 games this season, an LSU record and the second longest SEC history. Averaging 23.5 points and 15.8 rebounds per game, Reese has been dominant and is in firm contention for national player of the year.
Alexis Morris is the only main contributor from last year’s team that is back this year. After playing the off-guard last year, Morris has transitioned to be the Tigers’ main point guard this season and has found her groove. Morris has scored 15+ in four straight games, including a career-high 31 last Monday against Tennessee. She has also found her open teammates, dishing the ball for 4.5 assists per game. She has two games this season with double-digit assists.
The freshman Flau’jae Johnson has made an immediate impact since stepping on campus. A rap star off the court, Johnson has shined this season, starting for the Tigers right away. She scores 13.0 points per game and is LSU’s second leading rebounder with 6.5 boards per game. Jasmine Carson is a three-point, sharpshooting threat and LaDazhia Williams is a glue player in the post that has the ability to score the ball, rebound and defend at a high level.
Guards Last-Tear Poa and Kateri Poole and freshman post Sa’Myah Smith have all played pivotal roles coming off the bench.
Sunday’s game will feature a matchup between two of the game’s top coaches. Both played basketball at a high level in college, have won Olympic Gold Medals and have won national championships as head coaches. It will be the fifth time that Coach Mulkey and Dawn Staley matchup against each other. Mulkey won the first two matchups, both 25-point wins during the 2018-19 season while she was at Baylor en route to her third national championship. Staley has won the previous two matchups, once during the 2019-20 season and last year when the two met as SEC coaching foes for the first time in Baton Rouge.
Staley’s South Carolina team went on to win the national championship last season and she returned the bulk of her roster this year. Her top returned is Aaliyah Boston, the defending national player of the year who set the SEC record last year with 27 consecutive double-doubles. She has still dominated this season, but due to being double- and triple-teamed many times when she touches the ball, her numbers have fallen slightly to 13.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
Kamilla Cardoso, who comes off the bench, is another presence in the post for the Gamecocks who, at 6-7, scored 9.7 point and grabs 8.2 rebounds per game. Ashlyn Watkins, Sania Feagin, Laeticia Amihere and Victaria Saxton are other players the Gamecocks have in their post rotation.
Because of the attention Boston draws, that has allowed Zia Cooke to step up to be South Carolina’s leading scorer with 14.8 points per game. With Boston, as well as all of their other posts, drawing attention down on the blocks, Cooke has stepped up to make big shots on the perimeter. Like at the forward position, the Gamecocks have a lot of depth at guard with other players such as Brea Beal, Bree Hall, Raven Johnson and Talaysia Cooper.
South Carolina has 12 players that average at least 10 minutes per game, showing the depth that the Gamecocks feature.
“They are relentless on the offensive boards,” Coach Mulkey said of South Carolina. “They can get to balls up here and it doesn’t matter how much you block them out because they’re still up there and you’re down here. Those rebounds are a big concern.
I also think their transition game is very good, particularly when Raven (Johnson) is in the game. I think they can outlet pass with the best of them so we have to not only defend them in the halfcourt, keep them off the boards; you’ve got to defend them in transition.”