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Dawn Staley and South Carolina relish another top-2 showdown

Sunday's game between No. 1 South Carolina and No. 2 Stanford will be the Gamecocks' fourth top-two matchup in two years. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

South Carolina women’s basketball will play in its fourth top-two matchup in two years Sunday, as the No. 1 Gamecocks take on the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal.

The two teams met under similar circumstances last December. Both teams held the same rankings and their rosters held many of the same faces, including Aliyah Boston for South Carolina and Haley Jones and Cameron Brink for Stanford.

South Carolina coach Dawn Staley sees such a high-profile contest as an opportunity for her team.

“You don’t play for the ranking, but we certainly play to see where we are — like, where do we stand up against the rich tradition of Stanford and their style of play?” Staley told the Mercury News. “It has an ambiguous meaning, but ultimately, it’s a measure of where you are, and when you stack up against one of the best teams in the country.”

She also sees the game, which will air on ABC at 3 p.m. ET Sunday, as an opportunity for women’s basketball as a whole.

“I think that we’re all thinking this for the greater good of the game,” Staley told the Mercury News. “This generates a lot of publicity. It generates a lot of buzz. It puts us on a platform to be seen by the rest of women’s basketball teams, programs, fans, bands, and everybody that just enjoys watching basketball.

“I know everybody’s been in a football mode, but it kind of jump-shocks you, to know it’s basketball season, and there’s a space for the basketball enthusiast to see a quality basketball game.”

Ahead of the showdown, Just Women’s Sports takes a look back at each of South Carolina’s last three No. 1 vs. No. 2 battles.

Dec. 21, 2021 – No. 1 South Carolina 65, No. 2 Stanford 61

South Carolina overcame an 18-point first-half deficit to take the win against Stanford last December. If history repeats itself, count on another close game Sunday.

The contest against the Cardinal marked the second top-two meeting in little more than a month for the Gamecocks, who had played then-No. 2 UConn in November.

“We had a packed house and we just didn’t have it in the first half,” Staley said. “Then we made a few adjustments at halftime and we got ourselves back in the game and we made it a game for the people who paid their money to watch, the people that were watching on TV or streaming it.

“I know Tara didn’t like the outcome, but I’m sure she could appreciate it being a highly contested basketball game.”

Destanni Henderson helped lead South Carolina in the win, but she has since moved to the WNBA as a member of the Indiana Fever. Still, new additions including freshman Ashlyn Watkins already have made an impact for South Carolina, which could give the Gamecocks a boost Sunday.

Nov. 11, 2021 – No. 1 South Carolina 73, No. 2 UConn 57

The first of South Carolina’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups during the 2021-22 season also featured the No. 1 Gamecocks recovering from a double-digit first-half deficit.

Paige Bueckers pushed the UConn offense to a 13-point lead in the second quarter, but the Gamecocks ended up forcing 19 turnovers to not only come back but win in convincing fashion.

South Carolina ended last season as the wire-to-wire No. 1 and won the national championship. The Gamecocks will aim to repeat both feats this season, despite some key departures.


Feb. 8, 2021 – No. 2 UConn 63, No. 1 South Carolina 59 (OT)

South Carolina’s first top-two matchup since 2016 proved to be a defensive battle, and No. 2 UConn scored the upset victory in overtime.

Paige Bueckers scored a game-high 31 points, including all nine of the Huskies’ overtime points, in a Herculean effort that helped make her case for her Player of the Year award. No other UConn player finished in double digits.

Aliyah Boston, then a sophomore, finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds. But South Carolina struggled on the whole, shooting 36.8 percent from the field and making just one 3-pointer.

Since then, South Carolina has been tough to beat in ranked matchups, with a 15-2 record heading into Sunday’s game against Stanford.