South Carolina women's basketball: Te-Hina Paopao leads rout of UConn

On3 imageby:Chris Wellbaum02/11/24

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#1 South Carolina needed a few minutes to find its footing against #11 UConn, but the Gamecocks methodically pulled away for an 83-65 rout.

Both teams entered the game shorthanded. UConn is down to essentially seven players, and with its best player Kamilla Cardoso competing internationally, South Carolina has just nine.

The Gamecocks didn’t care. Te-Hina Paopao broke out of a slump and hit her first three shots from behind the arc. When she finally missed, Chloe Kitts grabbed the rebound for a layup. Ashlyn Watkins, starting in place of Cardoso, aggressively looked for her shot, and when Aaliyah Edwards didn’t step out, Watkins nailed jump shots. 

Paopao and Watkins combined for 14 points in the first quarter, and South Carolina held UConn to just two points over the final five minutes to build a 19-11 lead.

South Carolina led by as much as 19 in the second quarter, but a 5-0 run before halftime cut the lead to 14 and gave UCoon a glimmer of hope. 

It didn’t last long. 

“We wanted to come out there and punch them first, like the beginning of the game, and that’s what we did,” Paopao said.

South Carolina’s transition game got going in the third quarter. The Gamecocks had 15 fast break points in the quarter, including seven during a 9-0 run that blew the lead up to 25.

“Our transition defense kind of fell apart for long stretches. They took advantage of every mistake that we made,” Geno Auriemma said. “If you’re going to win a game like this you either have to have more players and better talent, or you’re going to have to play much smarter and get some help from the other team. We did not play a very smart game in the first half.”

South Carolina led by as much as 27 points in the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks shot 46.5% from the floor and held UConn to 36.6% shooting. South Carolina was 7-19 from three while UConn was 7-23. 

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Both teams had 13 turnovers, but the Gamecocks had seven more points off turnovers and a 19-9 advantage in fast break point. 

Paopao finished with a season-high 21 points, plus three rebounds and two assists. She shot 8-12 overall and 5-7 from three, also a season-high for three-pointers.

“I wasn’t thinking at all. You’ve got to stay locked in,” Paopao said. “You’ve got to lock in and know everything is going to go in. Today it went in.”

“‘We’ve got to get going Pao,’” Dawn Staley told Paopao this week. “She knows. She’s very aware of what she means to our basketball team.

“When you take good shots they’ll find their way in the basket,” she added.

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Watkins had 15 points, nine rebounds, and three huge blocks. Chloe Kitts had 14 points and four rebounds. Raven Johnson had a double-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists.

“I knew that Kamilla is gone so I told Ash that I’d help her rebound,” Johnson said. 

Paige Bueckers and Aaliyah Edwards each had 20 points, but Bueckers, who shoots 54% this season, was just 8-20 from the floor and 2-6 from three.

“I thought we competed like hell, there were just times when we were just worn down,” Auriemma said.

Notes:

This is the lowest UConn has been ranked since the current series began in 2015, and only the second time a team has been ranked outside the top ten (South Carolina was #11 in 2019). … South Carolina wore its alternate “Cocky” uniforms. … Tessa Johnson had nine points off the bench, outsourcing MiLaysia Fulwiley, who had six. … The Gamecocks bench outscored the Huskies 19-3. … Nika Mühl has been a good barometer of UConn’s success this season, and she struggled with just six points, two assists, and five turnovers. Auriemma called her game “lousy.” … It was announced after the game that ESPN’s GameDay will broadcast from Colonial Life Arena ahead of the Georgia game next Sunday. … Dawn Staley’s outfit: Staley wore a sweatshirt with a graffiti-styled design. … Announced attendance was 18,167, a sellout. It was the third sellout of the season and is believed to be the largest crowd for a basketball game (men’s or women’s) ever in the state of South Carolina. … South Carolina’s next game is Thursday at Tennessee.

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