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Preview: No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks take center stage on the second night of the ACC/SEC Challenge

No. 1 South Carolina heads to Chapel Hill to take on No. 24 North Carolina, one of nine ACC/SEC Challenge contests on Thursday night. Down in Baton Rouge, No. 7 LSU hosts No. 9 Virginia Tech.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Mississippi Valley State at South Carolina
MiLaysia Fulwiley and the No. 1 Gamecocks head to Chapel Hill to take on the No. 24 Tarheels as part of the ACC/SEC Challenge.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC/SEC Challenge continues on Thursday evening, with nine inter-conference games on schedule. Check out the “Game information” for details about when and how to watch all the games.

Let’s take a look at the three most intriguing matchups: No. 1 South Carolina (5-0) vs. No. 24 North Carolina (5-2) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, Arkansas (6-1) vs. No. 15 Florida State (5-1) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and No. 9 Virginia Tech (5-1) vs. No. 7 LSU (7-1) at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Can UNC keep up with South Carolina?

Maryland v South Carolina
Through five games, sophomore Ashlyn Watkins has been one of many standout players for South Carolina.
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Peruse team stats for the 2023-24 season and, regardless of the category, you’ll find the Gamecocks in the top 10. Through the season’s first three weeks, South Carolina, having played five games, is:

  • #2 in points per game (100.4)
  • #9 in points allowed per game (48.8)
  • #1 in point differential (+51.6)
  • #6 in field goal percentage (51.4 percent)
  • #1 in rebounds per game (58.2)
  • #1 in blocks per game (12.4)

The Gamecocks are dominant, thus far demonstrating no weaknesses. Five players are scoring in double figures: senior center Kamilla Cardoso (16.8), freshman guard MiLaysia Fulwiley (15.0), senior guard Te-Hina Paopao (13.0), sophomore guard Raven Johnson (11.0) and sophomore forward Ashlyn Watkins (10.8). On the other end of the floor, three Gamecocks who have played in all games are averaging more than a steal per game: Johnson (3.4), Fulwiley (2.0) and Watkins (1.4). Four also are registering at least one block per game: Cardoso (4.0), Watkins (4.0), Fulwiley (1.4) and sophomore forward Chloe Kitts (1.2). Head coach Dawn Staley has seen production from up and down her roster, with experienced players and fresher faces all contributing to South Carolina’s overwhelming excellence.

Things have been much shakier for their Carolina counterparts. At last weekend’s Gulf Coast Showcase, UNC had a too-close-for-comfort win over Vermont before dropping games to No. 14 Kansas State and FGCU. Offense has been hard to come by for the ‘Heels, with only two players scoring in double figures: senior guard Deja Kelly (16.1) and junior forward Maria Gakdeng (11.1). Just among ACC teams, UNC is 12th in points per game (68.6); the Tarheels are 10th in the ACC in point differential. Unsurprisingly, Carolina’s field goal and 3-point percentages are subpar at 40.4 percent and 25.4 percent, respectively. And seeing a swarming South Carolina team certainly is not a cure for an ailing offensive attack.

Get ready for Ta’Niya Latson vs. Taliah Scott

Florida State v Miami
Sophomore Ta’Niya Latson again provides a powerful scoring punch for FSU.
Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Last season, FSU guard Ta’Niya Laston announced her college basketball arrival with bucket after bucket after bucket. She was the sport’s highest-scoring freshman, averaging 21.3 points per game. This season, Arkansas guard Taliah Scott quickly has established herself as a freshman scoring sensation, matching Latson’s mark with 21.3 points per game through seven games.

Scott’s most impressive performance of the season was her 34-point effort in Arkansas’ win over Arkansas State, when she was an incredibly efficient 11-for-12 on 2-point attempts. Laston is an equally adept tough shotmaker. In FSU’s comeback win over Florida, Latson scored a career-high 35 points; 17 of which came in the critical fourth quarter and 12 from the free throw line, where she was a perfect 12-for-12.

It should be quite the treat to see the two super-scoring guards on the same court. And the offensive fireworks should not be limited to Latson and Scott, as both teams embrace the 3-ball. Through seven games, the Razorbacks have taken 210 3s, the third-highest mark in the nation. They’ve made 61 of them, good for just 29 percent. The Seminoles, thus far, have opted for accuracy over volume, converting a solid 37.1 percent of their 140 3-point attempts across six games.

Lady Tigers, Hokies both need a statement win

Colorado v LSU
Through early-season turbulence, junior Aneesah Morrow has been a superb, steadying scoring force for LSU.
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Angel Reese is back! Hopefully, the return of the star junior forward can serve as the unofficial restart of the Lady Tigers’ title defense—because it definitely has not gotten off to an ideal start. An opening night loss has been followed by several not-so-convincing wins over lesser opponents. Virginia Tech also has not looked like a team poised to return to the Final Four. A competitive loss to Iowa is not a stain on their resume, but a team with championship aspirations should not struggle to pull away from the likes of Kansas and Tulane.

With both teams needing a big win over a high-caliber opponent, this matchup profiles as the most interesting of the ACC/SEC Challenge.

Even with Reese’s return, a LSU victory likely will have a lot to do with junior wing Aneesah Morrow. At the Cayman Islands Classic, she was fantastic, posting a pair double-doubles. After a quite impressive 28-point and 10-rebound performance in a domination of Niagara, she tallied an outstanding 37-point and 16-rebound effort against Virginia, playing all 40 minutes as the Lady Tigers escaped with a three-point win.

Virginia Tech will need to best of fifth-year center Elizabeth Kitley and senior guard Georgia Amoore. Kitley has been excellent of late. The Hokies also participated in the Cayman Islands Classic, where Kitley helped her team sneak by Kansas with a double-double that compares to those of Morrow: 31 points and 18 rebounds. However, going against a fully-operational Reese, who boosts LSU’s interior athleticism on the defensive end, could disrupt Kitley’s sweet inside scoring touch. If so, the Hokies will have look to Amoore’s off-the-dribble magic, relying on her ability to dust defenders and drain deep 3s.

Game information

Duke Blue Devils (4-2) vs. Georgia Lady Bulldogs (5-1)

When: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 5 p.m. ET

Where: Stegman Coliseum in Athens, GA

How to watch: SEC Network

Missouri Tigers (5-2) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (4-2)

When: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 5 p.m. ET

Where: John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, VA

How to watch: ACC Network

No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (5-0) vs. No. 24 UNC Tarheels (5-2)

When: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, NC

How to watch: ESPN

Arkansas Razorbacks (6-1) vs. No. 15 FSU Seminoles (5-1)

When: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Donald L. Tucker Center in Tallahassee, FL

How to watch: ESPN2

Boston College Eagles (3-4) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (2-5)

When: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Clive M. Beck Center in Lexington, KY

How to watch: SEC Network

Alabama Crimson Tide (7-1) vs. Syracuse Orange (5-1)

When: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. ET

Where: JMA Wireless Dome in Syracuse, NY

How to watch: ACC Network

No. 9 Virginia Tech Hokies (5-1) vs. No. 7 LSU Lady Tigers (7-1)

When: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, LA

How to watch: ESPN

Clemson Tigers (5-3) vs. Auburn Tigers (4-2)

When: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Neville Arena in Auburn, AL

How to watch: SEC Network

Texas A&M Aggies (5-1) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (2-4)

When: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. ET

Where: Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, NC

How to watch: ACC Network