November 18, 2022
Top five things that will decide marquee South Carolina and Stanford matchup
No. 1 South Carolina traveling to take on No. 2 Stanford in early-season battle of heavyweights
Two weeks into the 2022-23 season we get what should be a most compelling matchup in No. 1 South Carolina traveling to California to take on No. 2 Stanford at Maples Pavilion on Sunday.
For size, depth and breadth of talent, it’s difficult not to regard these as the two best teams in the country by a decent margin at this early point, and to have them go head-to-head is more than a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon before Thanksgiving week.
It will be a barometer for both teams, an indicator of weaknesses that must be shored up, a showcase for some of the nation’s most exciting players and another chess match between two coaches — Dawn Staley and Tara VanDerveer — who define the highest echelon of preparation, strategy and consistent excellence.
Here are the five factors that will determine the outcome of this matchup.
Aliyah Boston vs. Cameron Brink
Let’s just go straight to the top of the marquee. Two of arguably the top five players in the country will battle in the post to lift their team to a big early season win. Boston, the senior projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft, showed up big Saturday in the Gamecocks win over Maryland, with 18 points, 13 rebounds and a 7-for-8 effort from the floor. She will have a harder time having her way inside against the Cardinal, who have five players in their post rotation (Brink, Ashten Prechtel, Fran Belibi, Kiki Iriafen and Lauren Betts) with either skill, size, experience or fouls to give. And none of them could be more impactful than Brink, who is averaging 10.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in a balanced Cardinal offense. But Brink’s most eye-popping stat to this point is the nation-leading 17 blocks she’s collected in four games. As a bonus, so far she has managed to stay out of foul trouble.
Boston has the same kind of support inside as Brink with 6’7 Cardoso and seniors Victaria Saxton and Laeticia Amihere. This matchup is almost surely going to be a physical one and may come down to who can win the rebounding column in the box score.
Dawn Staley believes that her point-guard combination of Raven Johnson and Kierra Fletcher could be better distributors and floor leaders than she’s had to this point. Johnson, returning from a knee injury last season, will bring the defensive heat with five steals over her first two games. Fletcher, a graduate transfer from Georgia Tech, can dish and rebound, but the two players are a combined 5 for 25 from the floor on the offensive end and the efficiency is going to need to improve against a high-scoring Cardinal team.
Stanford, meanwhile, spent last season plugging the point guard gap left behind by Kiana Williams and still made it to the Final Four. But the Cardinal situation is settling with Haley Jones running more of the point and freshman Talana Lepolo is playing impressively in her debut month. Jones has dished out 16 assists and had a 17-point, seven-rebound game against Portland on Sunday, shooting 7 of 8 from the floor. Lepolo, meanwhile, has collected 26 assists in four games with just seven turnovers.
One team in this matchup is willing to live by the three. The other is going to have to defend it.
Stanford is bombing away from long-distance to start the season already with senior Hannah Jump hitting 12 of her 19 attempts to start, and leading Stanford in scoring as a result. After four games, the Cardinal have attempted 90 three-pointers and there are five players on the roster with at least five threes. That will make the perimeter more difficult to defend for South Carolina, but it will also pressure the Gamecocks to match up offensively. Zia Cooke, who leads the Gamecocks in scoring early, also leads South Carolina with six three-pointers and they are shooting 27 percent from beyond the arc as a team.
In a game that is guaranteed to be intense from start to finish, depth is going to be important for both teams. South Carolina has as much depth as they have had under Dawn Staley. Nine players saw double-figure minutes against Maryland, for example.
VanDerveer always builds deep teams, but this year’s squad seems particularly so. She has used 15 players in all four games thus far. Admittedly, none of those games have been close, but the Hall-of-Famer has a lot of lineup choices right now and young players are getting a lot of early experience.
Offense or defense?
Which carries the day in this heavyweight matchup? The Cardinal have scored 86 or more points in each of its first four games for the first time in program history and have shot 50 percent or better from the field in four straight games for the first time since 2014. Stanford is a strong defensive team, and the scout will, as always, be thorough, but the Cardinal are at their most dangerous when they can set the scoring pace.
South Carolina wants to improve its offensive efficiency this season — Boston and Cooke are the only returning players to have averaged double-figures scoring last season — and already put up 100 points this season in their season opener. But they will pressure the Cardinal from the jump, be physical with them inside, rattle ball-handlers and hold a high-scoring team into the 70s or low 80s in order to score a big road win.
Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.