South Carolina’s home opener was a family affair.
Tiffany Mitchell came back to have her jersey retired. A’ja Wilson showed up in support. Four of the five “Freshies” — Aliyah Boston, Brea Beal, Zia Cooke and Olivia Thompson — returned to receive their 2023 SEC Championship and Final Four rings.
And, in their second-straight ranked matchup to start the season, South Carolina’s current women’s basketball team put on a show for their elders.
The No. 6 Gamecocks defeated the No. 14 Maryland Terrapins 114-76 at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday afternoon. In each of its first two games, South Carolina put up triple-digit points. Sunday’s game set a record for most points scored against a ranked opponent.
The USC-Maryland matchup became a mainstay on the schedule starting in the 2017-2018 season. The Gamecocks lead the all-time series 6-2 after Sunday. The last seven meetings have been top-20 matchups. They met twice last year, once during the regular season (USC won 81-56) and once in the Elite Eight (USC won 86-75).
The starting lineup Sunday versus Maryland was the same as the opener in Paris against Notre Dame: Kamilla Cardoso, Chloe Kitts, Bree Hall, Raven Johnson and Te-Hina Paopao.
Paopao led all the Gamecocks in scoring with 14 points, 12 of which came from three. Ashlyn Watkins (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Kitts (13 points, 10 rebounds) each recorded double-doubles – Watkins’ third ever and Kitts’ first. All 11 of USC’s players saw the court, and seven scored in double digits.
South Carolina (2-0) will stay home for its next game to take on Clemson at 7 p.m. Thursday.
After a stellar Game 1 in Paris, MiLaysia Fulwiley was as electric again versus Maryland.
She checked in after the first timeout in the second quarter and immediately made an impact. She scooped the ball off the floor in transition. Cheers in Colonial Life Arena escalated as she raced down the court, then reached peak volume when she flew high for a layup. As she elevated to the basket, she bumped into a Maryland defender for the and-1.
Two quick fouls sent her to the bench, but she came back for a short stint in the second quarter. She caught a pass beyond the 3-point line, and the arena buzzed in anticipation. She let the ball fly, banked it in, and the crowd exploded.
Fellow freshman Tessa Johnson looked calm, cool, collected en route to 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. Head coach Dawn Staley has talked about wanting Johnson to be more confident in her shooting ability and break out of her high school ways. Johnson played tough Sunday, making solid and patient decisions.
She put the ball on the floor to create a bit of space and sank a mid-range jumper for her first bucket of the day just before the first quarter ended. At one point in the second quarter, Johnson sank a 3, snagged a steal, then assisted Paopao for 3 all in one sequence. The bench erupted in excitement.
Sahnya Jah also scored on an assist from Johnson at the end of the second quarter. In the final two minutes of the game, she had a layup on an assist from Fulwiley.
Kamilla Cardoso struggles (by her standards)
South Carolina had an edge in size, with 6-foot-7 center Cardoso quite literally topping all players on the court.
But she struggled Sunday against the Terrapins’ double teams. She had just four points, four rebounds and one block. Cardoso also had two fouls and turned the ball over once (She had five points in the first half vs. Notre Dame, then had a 13-point third quarter). She ended the day with 12 points, seven rebounds, four personal fouls, one turnover and two blocks.
But Staley characterized the 2023-24 Maryland team as very similar to the squad South Carolina faced twice last year, despite losing over 40% of last season’s scoring production with the departures of Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers. Staley said that although the Terrapins are undersized, they spread opponents out, knock down 3s and gang rebound.
That was the story for much of the first half Sunday.
Maryland made seven 3s in the first half, shooting at a 58.3% clip. Terrapin guards Lavender Briggs (6-foot-1) and Shyanna Sellers (6-foot-2) out-rebounded Cardoso in the first half with five each.
Chloe Kitts makes her case
While four of the five spots in South Carolina’s starting lineup have seemed like locks since the preseason (Cardoso, Raven Johnson, Hall and Paopao), the forward position looked to be in flux.
Sania Feagin started at the four spot in the Gamecocks exhibition versus Rutgers. Kitts got the start in Paris. She started again in the home opener, and had the best game of her collegiate career.
With 5:30 left in the third quarter, Kitts set a new personal best for points scored in a game with 13 (her previous record was 10) and rebounds with nine (her previous best was seven). She played tough, fighting for loose balls and battling for buckets while dominating the backboard.
Kitts ended the day with a double-double: 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Next four South Carolina WBB games
Nov. 16: vs. Clemson, 7 p.m. (SEC Network)
Nov. 20: vs. South Dakota State, 7 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
Nov. 24: vs. Mississippi Valley State, 1 p.m. (SEC Network Plus)
Nov. 30: at UNC, 7 p.m. (ESPN)