The No. 1 seed in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament’s Hemisfair Region, the South Carolina Gamecocks, will take on the No. 5 seed Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. It is the first of four Sweet Sixteen games on the docket and will be televised nationally on ABC.
While some of the higher-seeded teams in the 2021 NCAA Tournament have struggled thus far, South Carolina is not one of them. The Gamecocks blew out the No. 16 seed Mercer Bears in the first round 79-53 and defeated the No. 8 seed Oregon State Beavers 59-42 days later. South Carolina held both opponents to sub-40 percent shooting from the field.
It’s the kind of defense fans have come to expect from the Gamecocks, who ranked 14th in Division I in defensive efficiency (79.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) this season, according to Her Hoop Stats. The Gamecocks are also among the best in the nation in offensive rebounding (42.8 percent) and defensive rebounding (75.2 percent) rate, which is fueled largely by sophomore center Aliyah Boston, who was recently named the National Player of the Year by The Athletic.
While the Yellow Jackets’ body of work in 2020-21 hasn’t been as dominant as that of the Gamecocks, they do present the biggest challenge South Carolina has faced at this point in the tournament. After earning an overtime comeback victory, 54-52, against the No. 12 seed Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks, Georgia Tech went on to defeat the No. 4 seed West Virginia Mountaineers 73-56, proving that it can win both low- and high-scoring games.
Georgia Tech has plenty of size in the frontcourt, with Nerea Hermosa (6-foot-5) and Lorela Cubaj (6-foot-4) giving the Yellow Jackets an advantage over most teams. Cubaj, in particular, has had a stellar tournament to this point, most recently putting up 21 points and 12 rebounds against West Virginia. She’s also projected to be a first-round WNBA draft pick by ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, should she choose not to use her extra year of eligibility for 2021-22.
Regardless, South Carolina is the region’s No. 1 seed for a reason, and the Gamecocks have more than just size and rebounding going for them, with explosive guard play and plenty of perimeter defense. ACC Coach of the Year Nell Fortner will need to devise a game plan that limits South Carolina’s offensive options and gives her Yellow Jackets a fighting chance against one of the top teams in the country.
No. 5 seed Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (17-8, 12-6 ACC) vs. No. 1 seed South Carolina Gamecocks (24-4, 14-2 SEC)
When: Sunday, Mar. 28 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: The Alamodome in San Antonio, TX
How to watch: ABC/Radio: WREK 91.1 FM (Georgia Tech) or Radio: 107.5 THE GAME (South Carolina) or Gamecock All-Access
Keys to the matchup: Cubaj can both shoot from the outside and pass the ball better than most players her size, giving a gifted defender like Boston a look she hasn’t seen often before. It’s an interesting individual matchup, but given the Gamecocks’ athleticism elsewhere, Georgia Tech will need to get major contributions from its backcourt in order to win, even if Cubaj plays well. Kierra Fletcher and Lotta-Maj Lahtinen, who scored a total of 36 points against Virginia Tech, must play South Carolina guards Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke to at least a draw while keeping them out of transition and off the free throw line.