GREENSBORO, NC — On Saturday afternoon, No. 1 Baylor routed No. 4 South Carolina 93-68 in the NCAA Sweet 16. Baylor sophomore Didi Richards led the way with 25 points, but all five Baylor starters scored in double digits.
Te’a Cooper led the way for South Carolina with 17 points, but no other Gamecock starter scored more than five points.
Overall, this is a game that South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley and her squad will want to forget as quickly as possible, which will be easier to do considering they’re welcoming one of the best recruiting classes in the nation next year.
Meanwhile, Baylor will go on to face No. 2 Iowa in the Elite Eight on Monday night at 7:00 p.m. ET.
“These kids are focused. These kids, I mean, they have never wavered in how they approach a basketball game,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said in press. “They are funny. They are talented. Elite 8 Monday.”
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Here are the big takeaways Baylor’s day of domination.
Baylor’s post players dominated w/ 30 more points in the paint
Okay, yes, we all know that center Kalani Brown and forward Lauren Cox are a force of nature. But we should never take their dominance for granted. Neither played the best games of their season, and yet the both ended up with double-doubles anyways. Brown had 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Cox had 17 points and 14 rebounds. In person, I was most surprised by their passing ability — Cox had six assists, Brown had three. They are so dynamic.
Baylor had 58 points in the paint, compared to only 28 for South Carolina. And, as Mulkey stressed in press, Baylor won the fast-break battle, too.
“i read a lot of things and try to figure out what it is that we may see that we didn’t see last time, and I think Coach Staley was trying to say that [this game was] fast versus big. So we’re pretty fast, too. We’re not just a bunch of slugs running the floor with two big girls.
Those kids can get up and down the floor and our guards are going to push it and we’re going to wait a step or two for them to run foul line to foul line. So I was just looking at that. You know, our transition buckets were like 25-9, and so we’re going to run. We’re not walking the ball up the floor. I thought that was big.”
Okay, now that that’s out of the way: IT IS HAPPENING!! WE ARE GOING TO GET MEGAN GUSTAFSON AND HANNAH STEWART VS. KALANI BROWN AND LAUREN COX. I will stop yelling, but I’m only doing so reluctantly. What a thrill this will be.
Didi Richards is a superstar
Before the game, I asked Brown, Cox, and Chloe Jackson if there were any players on their team that I should be on the lookout for to have a big game; a player that perhaps doesn’t get as much credit as she should All three of them made sure to mention Didi Richards — specifically her defense, and her energy cutting to the basket.
And goodness, now I get it. Richards is an absolute sparkplug out there. Coming into the game, her career high was 15 points. She scored a career-high 25 points (!!!) on Saturday to lead her team to victory.
“That’s something that’s going to happen if they to continue to double-team our posts. I’m just thankful that they are able to find me back-side,” Richards said.
Overall, she was 11-for-14 from the field with an additional six rebounds and four assists. She was everywhere, doing everything, and always looking upset that she couldn’t be doing even more. The sophomore guard clearly knows how to rise to the occasion.
South Carolina got off to an abysmal start
In the press conference on Friday, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley tried to stress that the team had “nothing to lose,” because it was a significant underdog against the No. 1 overall seeded Baylor Bears. Usually, that attitude means that a team plays loose. But my goodness, did the Gamecocks play tight in the first half.
It was bad enough that SC only scored 23 points in the first half. But what’s even more staggering is that only nine of those points came from its starters. Alexis Jennings, Te’a Cooper, Destanni Henderson, Doniyah Cliney, and Tyasha Harris were a combined 3-for-16 in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Staley went six deep on her bench in the first half. Six! And every bench player played at least six minutes. That is an astoundingly deep rotation.
The SC starters did pick it up slightly in the second half, but by then it was way too little, too late. The bench outscored the starters 37 to 31, with Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan leading the way on the bench, with 16 points, 5 rebounds. South Carolina has depth; now it just needs some stars.
“I think we achieved the potential of this team. I don’t think we lacked the potential. I thought getting to the second weekend of this tournament would be, you know, a real goal for us. I didn’t say that out loud, obviously, but I thought it was a real goal, attainable goal, to reach for,” Staley said in the press conference.
“Obviously we wanted to end it somewhere else, like Tampa, but we just didn’t have enough. When you look at, you know, what was on our roster, you look at the inexperience of players who had to make an impact for us consistently, the depth of our rosters, the injuries at the beginning of the season, it was just hard to build that chemistry.”
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