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Is South Carolina for Real?


Barring a major and early upset in the SEC conference tournament, top-ranked South Carolina appears poised to host the Greenville, South Carolina regional, potentially as the highest overall seed in the NCAA tournament. The 2017 national champions have bowed out of March Madness before the Final Four the last two seasons, but are viewed as a near-lock to reach that stage again.

But is South Carolina, with three freshmen starters, really that good? Multiple factors go into answering that question.


1. Strength of schedule

Admittedly, the SEC is not at the pinnacle of women’s basketball. The average RPI rating of the 14 teams, including South Carolina’s No. 1 contribution, is 80.

Of course, South Carolina dominated this competition to the tune of a perfect conference record, the first in program history. Their lone loss of the season came against a ranked Indiana team, and South Carolina responded two games later with a commanding win over reigning the national champions, No. 2 Baylor.

For any talk that South Carolina’s schedule has been light, the Gamecocks did beat two of the three other teams in line for a one-seed according to the latest Top 16 Committee ranking (Baylor and Maryland). The Gamecocks also put on a show against UConn, currently slotted as a two-seed by the committee.

The only top four team South Carolina has not seen, Oregon, provides an apt comparison for strength of schedule. Not only did both teams rout UConn, but their respective schedules look nearly identical. South Carolina’s average opponent ranked 87.6 in RPI, Oregon’s 89.7. The strength of schedule metric puts South Carolina at six and Oregon at eight.

South Carolina had to work harder in its non-conference scheduling to make this happen, as the average RPI rating of Oregon’s Pac-12 opponents was 62. The relative parity in the Pac-12 meant that the conference’s lowest ranked team, Cal, could upset one of its top teams, Arizona, on the road. On the other end, in the SEC, Ole Miss went winless in 16 conference games. This would be more of a conversation if South Carolina ever stumbled, but it didn’t. Instead, Dawn Staley’s squad took care of business in its own league while also knocking off some of the best competition in the country.


2. The Gamecock’s youth

It’s no secret that South Carolina trends young. After bringing in the nation’s top recruiting class, it shouldn’t be surprising that two of their top three scorers are freshmen. Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke, the 3rd and 4th ranked 2019 recruits by ESPN’s HoopGurlz, are 2nd and 3rd on the team with 12.9 and 12.4 points per game, respectively.

Neither, however, are just scorers. Not only does Boston rank seventh in the nation in field goal percentage, she also stands 18th in blocks per game and 57th in rebounds per game. Her 267 rebounds on the season are 97 more than her next closest teammate. Boston isn’t just good for a freshman. She’s good, period. And she’s been widely recognized as such. Her trophy cabinet now includes SEC Freshman and Defensive Player of the Year, and spots on the All-SEC First Team, All-Freshman Team and All-Defensive Team.

Cooke, who joined Boston on the SEC All-Freshman Team, has also impressed. She has led or tied for the team lead in scoring a team-best 11 times, her five 20-point games are a team high, and she is averaging the second most minutes of anyone on the team. That doesn’t mean she hasn’t shown some signs of youth. Her nearly one-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t great, especially for a point guard. Nevertheless, Cooke hasn’t let her inexperience affect her confidence — she has taken the most 3-pointers on the team and is connecting on 38% of them.


3. Their unsung leaders

While South Carolina’s freshmen have been the story of the season, the reason to believe the Gamecocks have a real chance at winning it all is the strength of their seniors. Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan have been absolute pillars for the team, starting all 29 games alongside Boston, Cooke, and fellow freshman phenom Brea Beal.

Harris was named to the All-SEC First Team for the first time in her career while leading her young running mates to the top spot in the AP poll. Her importance to the team is underscored by her position as the primary playmaker in the most challenging games. On the season, she’s accounted for 30.1% of the team’s offense, but in South Carolina’s 12 games against ranked opposition, that number increased to 34.9%.

Not only is she scoring while dishing out the 17th-most assists per game in the country, but Harris is also taking care of the ball, which is crucial for such a young team. Her 2.78 assist-to-turnover ratio is the nation’s eighth-best. She’s also capitalizing on opponent’s errors, with 46 steals of her own, including this one against UConn, which ended with a coast-to-coast layup.

Herbert Harrigan has also had a standout season while playing her best basketball when it mattered most. Against ranked opponents, her rebounding average is 7.2 per game, 1.5 more than her season average. An All-SEC second-teamer, she’s also scoring a team-high 13.0 points per game as a hyper-efficient 50.5% shooter.


In conclusion: yes, South Carolina is really that good

On paper, there’s no question that the Gamecocks are true contenders. They rank first or second in every major statistic in the SEC and have the fourth-best scoring margin in the nation. Their eighth-overall scoring offense and 19th-ranked scoring defense are both elite, further proof that they can get it done on both ends of the court.

South Carolina is primed for success because of, not in spite of, its freshmen contingent. Having seniors who are ready to take over in big games should calm any freshman-syndrome jumpiness as the Gamecocks advance through the tournament. And let’s not forget — Staley knows how to coach. Add it all together, and South Carolina might just be the favorites to cut down the nets in New Orleans.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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