No. 1 South Carolina, last year’s national champion, and No. 2 Stanford, the 2021 national champion, will square off Sunday in the most anticipated matchup of the women’s college basketball season.
Both of these squads have the potential to be cutting down the nets come April, so Sunday could offer fans a Final Four or championship game preview.
Here are three storylines to watch when these two powerhouses take the court at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.
This game features two of the best bigs in college basketball in South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Stanford’s Cameron Brink.
Boston won last season’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards after leading South Carolina to a national title, and Brink played a key role in Stanford’s 2021 title run. Both are future pros and generational talents.
But the 6-foot-5 Gamecocks senior and 6-foot-4 Cardinal junior bring contrasting styles of play to the floor.
Their biggest similarity comes in their shot-blocking abilities. Last season, Boston averaged 2.4 blocks per game, while Brink recorded 2.6 per game. Though Brink’s stats were better, Boston holds the defensive advantage because of her poise. Brink has been foul-prone during her first two years with the Cardinal, so keeping her on the floor against Boston will be key for Stanford.
As for their offensive skills, Boston is more of a traditional big, doing her damage with her back to the basket or on offensive boards, while Brink has guard skills that allow her to catch and drive from the perimeter. In this game, expect Stanford to try and stretch the defense by bringing Brink outside. South Carolina, on the other hand, will likely challenge Brink inside, with the aim of sending her to the bench with foul trouble.
“Ready to do what needs to be done.” Aliyah Boston is HER. #NCAAWBB X @GamecockWBB pic.twitter.com/uQpbp4N551— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) November 11, 2022
“Ready to do what needs to be done.” Aliyah Boston is HER. #NCAAWBB X @GamecockWBB pic.twitter.com/uQpbp4N551
Both of these teams are blessed with depth.
That’s a gift, but it also means South Carolina coach Dawn Staley and Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer have to spend the early part of the season tinkering with their lineups. There’s a good chance Stanford and South Carolina meet again in the postseason, and if they do, their rotations could look a lot different than they do Sunday.
This weekend, look out for the usual suspects – Brink and Haley Jones for Stanford, and Boston and Zia Cooke for South Carolina – but also be aware that any number of players could step up and make a difference.
In the starting lineup, Raven Johnson could have a breakout game for South Carolina. After being injured early last season the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2021 has been tabbed to take over the point guard spot from Destanni Henderson. For Stanford, Hannah Jump is off to a hot start, shooting 58% from beyond the arc and averaging a team-high 13.2 points per game.
Off the bench, both teams have elite post options as well. South Carolina has the luxury of trading Boston for 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso, while Stanford brings in No. 1 recruit Lauren Betts. And it doesn’t end there. Ashlyn Watkins, the No. 12 recruit in the country, has been getting key minutes for the Gamecocks – she made headlines with a dunk against Clemson – and Stanford forward Kiki Iriafen has gone from playing 6.5 minutes per game as a freshman to putting up 11.8 points per game in her sophomore season.
Another day in the office for @hannah_jump 👀Her eight 3️⃣'s against Cal Poly matched a career-high, are the second-most in a single game in Stanford history, and increased her national lead of 20 3️⃣'s this season!#GoStanford pic.twitter.com/PHIIGI4pp7— Stanford Women’s Basketball (@StanfordWBB) November 18, 2022
Another day in the office for @hannah_jump 👀Her eight 3️⃣'s against Cal Poly matched a career-high, are the second-most in a single game in Stanford history, and increased her national lead of 20 3️⃣'s this season!#GoStanford pic.twitter.com/PHIIGI4pp7
Stanford started the season shooting exceptionally well. So far, the Cardinal are hitting 55% of their field goals and 41% of their 3-pointers. Leading the way in efficiency is Iriafen, who ranks second in the country and has made 75% of her shot attempts so far. Betts isn’t far behind, making 72% of her attempts.
For South Carolina, Boston has scored on 71.4% of her attempts, and the post cohort is following suit. Cardoso (with less attempts) is at 82.4%, Watkins is shooting 70.6%, and Sania Feagin – another player who is making big strides from last season – is shooting 76.9%.
Both teams like to find high-percentage looks inside, and both squads do it with relative ease.
The defense in this game will be on another level compared to the teams South Carolina and Stanford have played thus far – though the Gamecocks faced No. 17 Maryland – so those numbers likely won’t be as high. Look for both sides to try and capitalize in other aspects of the game, like free throws or outside shooting to find some kind of separation. That could be the difference, but the Gamecocks and the Cardinal won’t shy away from their inside game, and it should be an exciting battle in the key.