Sports dynasties, especially at the collegiate level, are not all that uncommon. Connecticut women’s basketball. North Carolina field hockey. Alabama football. Iowa wrestling.
As of late, there is an argument for a new addition to the list. South Carolina women’s hoops, led by head coach Dawn Staley, might be equally as or more dominant than any other program in recent college sports memory. On Sunday afternoon, the Gamecocks showed up in Cameron Indoor Stadium to prove exactly that. The visitors outlasted the Blue Devils in the second half, escaping with a 77-61 victory in the Jimmy V Women’s Classic.
The difference coming into the second half was immense. While Duke (5-3) would make occasional runs, South Carolina (7-0) had found the rhythm that the Blue Devils had worked so hard to disrupt in the first half. The Gamecocks shot 50% from three in the third quarter, stretching the floor and creating opportunities where there had previously been none.
Despite those struggles, Duke managed to find some space to work at the end of the third quarter. A pair of 3-pointers from Ashlon Jackson and guard Reigan Richardson, along with another buzzer-beater from the latter, had suddenly pulled the Blue Devils right back into the game. Heading into the fourth quarter, Duke was down just 55-52. The energy in the stadium was palpable, as significant attendance from fans of the two squads electrified every basket.
Both teams came into the fourth quarter ready to play. Defense once again became the dominant factor, as both teams disrupted each others’ sets. Finally, Richardson opened the scoring with less than eight minutes to go in the period. She nailed yet another attempt from behind the arc, and the Blue Devils tied the game up at 55 heading into a tense final few minutes.
Despite the effort, South Carolina looked like the better team as the clock began to tick down. The higher talent floor began to shine through, as the clutch shooting continued while the Blue Devils appeared exhausted. Fouls also became an issue, as center Kennedy Brown picked up her fifth with just under four minutes left.
While the game was tight at the end of the first half, the antics only really got going after the buzzer sounded. When Donovan stood over visiting forward Chloe Kitts after a late block, the two teams got into it. Staley came running down the court to address the issue, and players got in each others’ faces. The final result was a double technical foul, emblematic of the first half. Both squads played gritty, physical basketball. Quality shots were hard to come by, and both teams relied on acrobatic finishes through contact to score. While the Gamecocks were in the lead coming out of the first 20, Duke was solidly in the game.
Duke came out of the gate in the first with some fire. The Blue Devils nailed two early 3-pointers and controlled the ball in transition to generate early, quality opportunities. The team, much like it did in the final minutes against Stanford, was playing to its full potential. While South Carolina had managed to establish a narrow lead, the Gamecocks were barely clinging to it.
The score swung the other way with just over a minute remaining in the first period, as freshman guard Oluchi Okananwa buried a 3-pointer. That was followed up by yet another from guard Jackson. A buzzer-beater from South Carolina’s MiLaysia Fulwiley closed out the quarter, but the Blue Devils still held to a two-point lead at the end of the opening 10 minutes.
While Duke scored the first points in the second quarter, it was the Gamecocks who came out of the gate with new enthusiasm. Perhaps spurred on by the realization that the Blue Devils would put up a fight, South Carolina began to push back harder. The two teams continued to battle, exchanging shots and playing gritty defense. Despite the incongruence in AP ranking, Duke was giving the Gamecocks a game. With under five minutes left in the half, the Blue Devils remained well within striking distance, and when Delaney Thomas stole the ball and ran down the floor, she tied it back up at 29 after a crafty hesitation down low.
Coming into the second half, both teams were fired up. The altercation at the end of the first half had inspired a degree of newfound enthusiasm for the game. South Carolina held the edge early, as its shotmaking improved and its difference-makers began to find their shooting stroke. Lawson was forced to call an early timeout after an early run had extended the lead to 11. The Blue Devils, while energetic, were playing without finesse. Shot selection regressed, and the defense appeared confused by the newfound 3-point shot that the Gamecocks had established coming out of the break.
South Carolina pulled away down the stretch, as the defense got weaker and shots improved. With three minutes remaining, the visitors were up 70-57. Despite a valiant effort, the better team eventually prevailed.
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