When the high-scoring No. 15 Arkansas Razorbacks (11-4, 2-3 SEC) bore their way into Columbia, SC, to take on the No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks (9-1, 4-0 SEC), they will be greeted with a larger-than-life bronze statue of A’ja Wilson, the hometown program’s most famous player.
An 11-foot statue in Wilson’s honor was erected last week outside of Colonial Life Arena and South Carolina Athletics held an invitation-only unveiling ceremony earlier in the day. The grandeur should inspire the Razorbacks, averaging 86.5 points per game this season (to the Gamecocks’ 84.4), to try to kick dust in the fanfare.
And although Wilson, the 2020 WNBA MVP and 2018 WNBA Rookie of the Year, is being honored, it is unlikely that this season’s Gamecocks will allow themselves to be overshadowed, even by their queen.
The Razorbacks enter this one looking to make it a two-game winning streak after rectifying back-to-back losses in January (at Tennessee, 88-73, and vs. Texas A&M, 74-73) with a four-point win over Florida on Jan. 14. Still, the Razorbacks have lost three of their four matchups against ranked opponents after defeating Baylor, then ranked No. 4, on Dec. 6. And although ranked 17th nationally, Arkansas is ninth in the super-competitive SEC standings — behind four nationally-ranked teams and four unranked squads in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and LSU.
In the Razorbacks’ favor is their high-scoring 86.5 points per game, led by Chelsea Dungee (21.4 points), Destiny Slocum (15.5 points) and Makayla Daniel (13.3 points).
Oh, but the Gamecocks will try to disrupt their flow with tribute videos to A’ja Wilson, who helped bring the 2017 NCAA tournament title to the Palmetto State! And while Arkansas seeks a second-straight win, South Carolina is after its seventh, with protection of its undefeated conference record on the line.
While the Gamecocks average fewer points per game than the Razorbacks, they are holding their opponents to 57.3 points per game, led by Aliyah Boston’s 10.6 rebounds, Laetitia Amihere’s 6.4 and Destanni Henderson’s and Victaria Saxton’s 6.2 apiece. Plus, Boston hosts a block party each game, with 2.6 rejections, followed by Saxton’s 2.0 boards and Amihere’s 1.3.
On the offensive side, Zia Cooke leads the way for South Carolina with 16.6 points per game, followed by Boston and Henderson (tied for 13.1 apiece) and Saxton (10.8). Now that Boston has a reliable outside shot in her arsenal, and Henderson seems to thrive on fast blitzes in transition, the Gamecocks should make a Razorbacks’ win difficult.
South Carolina hasn’t lost this season since being upset by NC State on Dec. 3, and they have a slight edge against Arkansas historically — 21-18 all-time, winning 13 of the teams’ last 14 meetings. If Arkansas’ shooters get hot, it could be a thriller inside Colonial Life Arena. More recent history suggests, however, that a Razorbacks’ win would be an upset because the Gamecocks defeated them by an average of 18.7 points per game in three wins last season.
No. 4 South Carolina Gamecocks (9-1, 4-0 SEC) vs. No. 15 Arkansas Razorbacks (11-4, 2-3 SEC)
When: Monday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, SC
How to watch/listen: ESPN2/Gamecocks All-Access
Key to the game: Poise. It’s a nationally-televised game on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, following celebration of the biggest star to emerge from South Carolina program history. Can both teams maintain the poise that brought them to this Top-20 contest?
Reason to watch: Aliyah Boston never fails to put on a show. Come for the competition and stay for the potential A’ja Wilson sightings.