Friday night, however, South Carolina’s title defense begins in earnest, as the Gamecocks head to College Park to take on the No. 17 Maryland Terrapins at 6 p.m. ET (ESPN 2). Maryland played the George Mason Patriots on Monday, winning 88-51.
Last season, these two squads met in mid-December in Columbia, when South Carolina triumphed 66-59.
Since then, much has changed for the Terps. All members of the starting five who took the court against the Gamecocks last season have moved on from Maryland. South Carolina, in contrast, will sport four of the five same starters, with Raven Johnson, the redshirt freshman who was the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2021 before missing almost all of last season, replacing the departed Destanni Henderson.
In addition to this disparity in continuity, the challenge could be even steeper for Maryland. Diamond Miller, the Terps’ expected star, left Monday’s contest after nine minutes due to an injury scare. After the game, head coach Brenda Freese suggested Miller’s absence was precautionary, although the senior guard will undergo further evaluation. Last season, Miller did not play against South Carolina due to an injury to the knee that appeared to cause Monday’s concerns. Encouragingly for Maryland, Miller was excellent before her exit against George Mason, attacking her way to five free throws and 11 points while also grabbing six rebounds.
To threaten the Gamecocks, the Terps not only need Miller, but also need her to be the best version of herself. A superstar performance from her and a cascade of 3-pointers are the likely ingredients Maryland needs to cook up an upset. If the game instead is a physical defensive battle, expect South Carolina to eat, with ease.
This year’s Maryland squad is undersized. South Carolina is not. The Terps’ tallest players are the 6-foot-3 Miller and 6-foot-3 freshman Mila Reynolds, who saw 12 minutes of action in the season opener. The Gamecocks have five players 6-foot-3 or taller, headlined by defending National Player of the Year, the 6-foot-5 Aliyah Boston (who will, in all likelihood, learn her WNBA fate before the game with the 2023 WNBA Draft Lottery).
Even more, Boston and the Gamecocks know how to use their size to smother and stifle opponents.
In last season’s matchup, against a Maryland team with more size, South Carolina absolutely dominated the glass, swallowing 61 totals rebounds, including 24 offensive rebounds that contributed to 24 second-chance points. The duo of Boston and Victaria Saxton combined for 13 of those o-boards.
Against ETSU, the rebounding prowess of Boston and Saxton was boosted by two youngsters. Sophomore forward Sania Feagin, who saw limited minutes last season, snagged six boards to go with 15 efficient points in 15 minutes of play. In her 18-minute debut, freshman forward Ashlyn Watkins collected eight rebounds and chipped in an also-efficient 11 points.
It is hard to imagine how this season’s undersized Terps avoid getting overwhelmed by the rapaciously rebounding Gamecocks.
No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks (1-0, 0-0 SEC) vs. No. 17 Maryland Terrapins (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
When: Friday, Nov. 11 at 6 p.m. ET
Where: XFINITY Center in College Park, MD
How to watch: ESPN 2
Key to the matchup: Can Maryland pressure South Carolina into turnovers and get transition buckets? Turnovers represent another possible avenue to a Terrapin victory. To compensate for their lack of size, Maryland can deploy a high-pressure defense. They forced 18 turnovers against George Mason, which they turned into 27 points. Disrupting South Carolina will be a bigger ask, but not an impossible one. Point guard is the Gamecocks’ one question mark due to the aforementioned departure of Henderson. While Johnson started the season opener, head coach Dawn Staley also can call on the more experienced Kierra Fletcher, a graduate transfer from Georgia Tech. After Monday’s victory over ETSU, Staley suggested, “We need to get them a few more game experiences. So this was a good tune-up for them,” a comment that implies the coach might not have full trust in her point guards quite yet.