The No. 2 Baylor Lady Bears knocked the No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks from the NCAAW Tournament last spring in the round of 16 before winning it all. Since then, the Bears lost Kalani Brown to graduation and the WNBA and Lauren Cox has missed time with injury. Although returning players made a valiant effort in this year’s Paradise Jam Reef Division finale — with graduate transfer Te’a Cooper (the Gamecocks’ leading scorer last season) giving it her all — South Carolina handed Baylor their first loss of the season. In the Island Division, it was the No. 1 Oregon Ducks — who earlier this season secured a commanding exhibition victory over the USA Basketball Women’s National Team and whose senior star Sabrina Ionescu has been projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft — to get stunned by a lower-ranked team. The No. 8 Louisville Cardinals got it done by essentially shutting Ionescu down.
Here’s a closer look at the Gamecocks’ and Cardinals’ paths to upsetting the best in the nation, plus other results from Thanksgiving weekend’s Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, the U.S. Virgin Islands:
Gamecocks in Paradise — Reef Division winner
The Gamecocks came out sluggish in their tournament opener against the No. 17 Indiana Hoosiers. With Ali Patberg and Brenne Wise firing on all cylinders for a game-high 16 points apiece, the lackluster start was to the Gamecocks’ detriment. The Hoosiers were really good at drawing fouls, five of which were called against South Carolina frontcourt star Aliyah Boston, limiting her to 14 minutes of playing time and 10 points before she eventually fouled out. With a 71-57 victory, the Hoosiers handed the Gamecocks their first loss of the season. The next night, the Gamecocks bounced back against an unranked Washington State team that overcame a 25-9 first-quarter deficit with a 23-12 second quarter that had the Gamecocks flustered. Senior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, who finished with a game-high 20 points, came out in the third and carried her team to victory.
In their third game in three nights, the Gamecocks had to get past the defending champion Lady Bears. A victory over Baylor was one thing, but South Carolina needed a 15-point margin of victory to win the tournament (to top their 14-point margin of defeat against Indiana). Freshman forward Aliyah Boston, a native of St. Thomas, put on a show for her hometown crowd, tying senior guard Tyasha Harris with a game-high 20 points and pulling down 13 rebounds to make it a double-double. Boston blocked two shots to send the crowd into a frenzy. The Gamecocks were able to hit the 15-point scoring differential because they improved from the free-throw line — hitting 70 percent of their shots from the charity stripe versus no more than 50 percent free-throw shooting in each of the first two games. They also clamped down on defense to hold the Bears scoreless for the final 3:41 minutes, dropping Baylor to 7-1 for the season.
Cardinals in Paradise — Island Division winner
Unlike the Gamecocks, the Cardinals got off to a hot start at Paradise Jam, dropping UT Arlington 76-67 in an overall tight game — save for Louisville’s 23-15 second quarter. The game was tied five times and there were five lead changes, but the Cardinals outscored the Mavericks in bench production (12-6) and second-chance points (15-5) despite being outperformed by UT Arlington in the paint. In their second game, the Cardinals blew out the Oklahoma State Cowgirls 69-48. After just one tie and one lead change, the Cardinals pulled away with a 13-9 fourth quarter that sealed the deal. Those games were the appetizers to the Cardinals’ feast against the top-ranked Ducks.
Louisville allowed Satou Sabally to run up a game-high 21 points for Oregon but frustrated Ionescu into 6-of-20 shooting from the field and 1-of-9 from 3-point range. Forward Kylee Shook (18 points) and guard Dana Evans (17 points) came up big for the Cardinals on offense, with Shook also pulling down 15 rebounds to make it a double-double and Evans averaging 21 points for the tournament to earn the MVP award in the Island Division. Oregon was held to 34 percent shooting from the field and a stunning 6-of-35 (17 percent) from 3-point range in their first lost of the season. The Cardinals (8-0) remain undefeated.
Indiana finished the tournament with a 2-1 record for a 6-1 record for the season.
Washington State’s three losses at Paradise Jam drop the Cougars to 4-3 overall.
Oklahoma State finished 1-2 at Paradise Jam and move to a 6-2 record.
UT Arlington was 0-3 in the tournament and falls to 4-3 overall.