Will the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks (14-1) be challenged by the No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks (13-2) when they meet in Columbia on Thursday evening?
We know the Gamecocks are great. They claim a conference-best point differential of 27.3. This mark is powered by an across the board excellence, with the Gamecocks sitting near the top of all statistical categories. On the defensive end, South Carolina swats a conference-best 8.2 blocks per game, holds opponents to 32 percent shooting (second-best in the SEC) and grabs 27.1 defensive rebounds per game (good for third-best in the conference). On the other end of the floor, Dawn Staley’s squad scores a top-three 83 points per game, tosses a top-two 16.5 assists per game, shoots a top-two 47 percent from the field and snags a top-two 14.1 offensive rebounds per game.
All the more, South Carolina has individually excellent talents who have the potential to turn in incandescent performances. Since she arrived in Columbia, Aliyah Boston has established herself as the classic “not a freshman” freshman, leading the team in points, rebounds and blocks per game. Fellow freshman Zia Cooke also has flashed the ability to get buckets. In South Carolina’s 93-78 victory over Alabama on Sunday, Cooke netted a team-high 20 points while Boston contributed a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds.
And don’t forget sophomore Destanni Henderson and seniors Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and Tyasha Harris, who all can do damage on any day. Against Alabama, Henderson scored a season-high 17 points, Harris had 14 points and seven assists and Herbert Harrigan chipped in 12 points.
In short, the Razorbacks, intent upon proving themselves worthy contenders for the conference crown, face an unenviable challenge. Can they identify and exploit a Gamecock weakness?
Arkansas has shown the ability to outscore opponents. On Thursday evening, the Razorbacks will need to score smartly to outscore South Carolina. A methodical offensive effort could aid their upset bid. First, the Razorbacks must take care of the ball, as they successfully have done against other teams this season. Second, they need to get to the line, which they also do quite well. Drawing fouls will allow Arkansas to get easy points and potentially get some of South Carolina’s stars into foul trouble. Chelsea Dungee should be up to this task — she has converted almost 83 percent of her 99 free throws this season. Finally, throw in the fact that Arkansas shoots a conference-best 38.6 percent from 3-point range on a conference-leading 10.1 attempts per game and a Razorback win becomes imaginable. Against Auburn on Sunday, Arkansas swished a dozen triples, propelling them to an 86-70 win.
Tune in to see if Arkansas can use their prowess from the free-throw and 3-point lines to sink South Carolina and score the upset.
No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks vs. No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks
When: Thursday, Jan. 9, at 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Colonial Center, Columbia, SC
How to watch: SEC Network+