The Weekly Roundup: South Carolina Captures Battle 4 Atlantis Crown
Unpacking the Gamecocks’ statement win over UConn and other compelling top ten matchups this past week
Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also buy Her Hoop Stats gear, such as laptop stickers, mugs, and shirts!
Haven’t subscribed to the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter yet?
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your holiday weekend is filled with great food, quality time with family and friends, hassle-free Black Friday shopping (though that might be an oxymoron), and, most importantly, great basketball! Taking place in the Bahamas, the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship features NC State versus Maryland and Indiana against Stanford. The Virgin Islands Paradise Jam includes an intriguing matchup between Texas A&M and Northwestern. Suffice it to say, there’s plenty of quality action to take in during the long weekend!
There will be plenty of time to preview and unpack all of those great games, so let’s instead take a quick run through the events of the past week. No. 3 Maryland held off No. 6 Baylor 79-76 in a thrilling clash of Big Ten and Big 12 titans. Given just a 2.5% chance to win trailing 57-46 midway through the fourth quarter, a Rae Burrell-less Tennessee squad completed the improbable comeback in a 74-70 overtime victory against No. 12 Texas.
The Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas contained several top-25 matchups, including No. 2 UConn’s 60-53 win over No. 23 South Florida, No. 1 South Carolina’s 80-63 victory against No. 9 Oregon, and South Florida’s 71-62 triumph versus Oregon. However, the main event was the tournament’s championship game between the top two teams in the land: No. 1 South Carolina and No. 2 UConn. Let’s take a closer look at that contest.
Game of the week: Dominant fourth quarter propels No. 1 South Carolina past No. 2 UConn
November 22, 2021. It was a date basketball fans circled on their calendars when the bracket for the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis women’s basketball tournament was revealed. If all went according to plan, South Carolina would face UConn in the championship game of the Bahamas-based competition. After No. 1 South Carolina handled No. 9 Oregon 80-63 and UConn defeated No. 23 South Florida 60-53 on Sunday, fans’ wishes became a reality - No. 1 versus No. 2.
It was a heavyweight bout with South Carolina landing the first blow after a pair of three-pointers gave the Gamecocks a quick 6-0 advantage. UConn responded with a 20-2 run, turning eight South Carolina turnovers into nine points. The Huskies’ interior defense, particularly that of Olivia Nelson-Ododa (6 points, 5 rebounds, 5 blocks, 4 assists, 2 steals), was stifling in the early going, making life difficult for South Carolina’s All-American center Aliyah Boston. Boston has demonstrated an ability to knock down shots from long range, but she is lethal deep in the paint. So, anytime her shot chart (from the first quarter) looks like the image below, it’s a win for the opposition.
After falling behind by as many as 13 in the second quarter, the nation’s top team fought back, cutting the UConn advantage to 3 points, 36-33, at halftime. The second half, particularly the fourth quarter, belonged to South Carolina. Fewer turnovers, controlling the offensive glass, Boston finding her rhythm down low, and fantastic defense all led to South Carolina’s dominance in the final two quarters.
The Gamecocks committed 11 first-half turnovers, but through a combination of better decision-making and slowing the pace after taking the lead, they turned the ball over just three times in the second half. In a role reversal from the first half, the Gamecocks capitalized on UConn’s miscues to the tune of a 6-0 third-quarter advantage in the points off turnovers department.
South Carolina took the lead for good in the third quarter, largely because of its 9-0 advantage in second-chance points. Overall, the Gamecocks transformed 19 offensive boards into 17 second-chance points; UConn grabbed only six offensive rebounds for two second-chance points. The Huskies snagged just 37.3% of all rebounding opportunities Monday afternoon, their lowest percentage since at least the 2009-10 season.
Remember Boston’s first-quarter shot chart? In quarters 2 through 4, she exerted her will underneath, shooting 7-for-9 from the field. The tournament MVP finished the night with 22 points and 15 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end.
The consensus No. 1 team put the game away with a dominant fourth quarter, outscoring UConn 16-3. Yes, you read that correctly. The University of Connecticut scored three points in a full quarter. It’s the fewest points scored in the fourth quarter of any Division I contest this season. The Gamecocks’ stingy man-to-man defense forced six UConn turnovers and held the Huskies to 1-for-10 shooting in the final ten minutes.
South Carolina’s dynamic backcourt of Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke played critical roles in their team’s 73-57 championship win yesterday. Henderson filled up the stat sheet with 15 points, 6 assists, 6 steals, and 4 rebounds. With South Carolina trailing 26-14 early in the second quarter, coach Dawn Staley took the calculated risk of inserting Cooke into the game with two fouls. The move paid dividends, as Cooke contributed six points in the second quarter, keeping South Carolina within striking distance. Cooke finished the contest with 17 points.
For UConn, Paige Bueckers led the way with 19 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. However, outside of Evina Westbrook’s 9-point offensive flurry in the first quarter, Bueckers received little offensive help from her supporting cast. Today’s setback exposed the Huskies’ frontcourt as a work in progress. Granted, Nelson-Ododa was solid defensively, especially in the first half. However, it’s a problem when Boston, phenom that she is, single-handedly outscores and outrebounds your team’s trio of post players (Nelson-Ododa, Aaliyah Edwards, and Dorka Juhász). There’s a reason coach Geno Auriemma has called Juhász “the difference that puts us into that other level.” He likely recognizes that UConn’s contingent of post players is vulnerable when facing top-tier frontcourts, like that of South Carolina.
Casual college basketball observers may think the sky is falling after a UConn loss. First, that’s a testament to the incredibly high bar of success the program has established. Second, it’s one loss in November to the best team in the country. UConn fans can rest easy knowing that there’s plenty of time to address yesterday’s shortcomings (namely, poor rebounding, offensive production from the frontcourt, and second-half turnovers). If there’s one team that can do this, it’s the program that has made 13 consecutive Final Fours.
Get excited, college basketball fans! We get this matchup at least once more this season when these powerhouses face off in Columbia, South Carolina on January 27.
Performance of the week - Makenna Marisa, Penn State
There have been over 60,000 NCAA basketball games since the 2009-10 season (excluding contests against non-Division 1 opponents). A player has recorded a triple-double in only 295, or less than half a percent, of those games. After Penn State guard Makenna Marisa added her name to that list with a stellar 30-point, 11-assist, and 10-steal effort last Tuesday against Delaware State, Lady Lions coach Carolyn Kieger stated that she “knew Marisa would get a triple-double soon.” To have confidence that her player would accomplish such a rare feat speaks volumes about the completeness of Marisa’s game.
Marisa’s average stat line of 13.4 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists during her sophomore year last season was good enough to make the All-Big Ten Honorable Mention team. Only ten players in the country averaged at least 13.0 points, 4.95 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per game during the 2020-21 season, a list that includes Caitlin Clark and Ashley Owusu. Yet Marisa has somehow managed to elevate her level of play through four games this season, contributing 24.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.0 steals per contest. Those are all at least in the 99th percentile of all Division I players. While this year’s numbers haven’t come against the cream of the NCAA crop, it’s still a superb start. It will be interesting to watch if Marisa can carry this momentum into Penn State’s tougher slate of games during conference play.
Her gaudy stat line last Tuesday certainly helped those averages. It’s the 14th 30-point triple-double since the 2009-10 season. Marisa was frighteningly efficient, requiring just 26:41 of playing time to reach that milestone, missing just four of her 16 field goal attempts, and committing only one turnover. Everyone else on the list of 30-point triple-doubles needed at least 36 minutes.
In the postgame press conference, Marisa emphasized the group-before-individual mentality. After all, her team had a lot to celebrate, blowing out Delaware State 120-51 and setting the program record for points in a game.
“Like Coach [Carolyn] Kieger said, ‘What matters is the team,’” Marisa said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it. I was thinking team-first and Penn State before individual.”
Ever the coach looking for ways for her team to improve, Kieger, after congratulating Marisa on her outstanding performance, told Marisa that she should have rebounded more. With a focus on rebounding, can we expect a quadruple-double in Marisa’s future? Well, let’s not get too crazy. That having been said, a 10-steal triple-double also seemed a bit far-fetched entering last Tuesday. The sky appears to be the limit for Marisa.
New WNBA playoff format misses the mark
The WNBA announced several changes to its playoff structure Thursday afternoon in response to a growing chorus of players, fans, and coaches who believed the postseason format, particularly the single-elimination games in the first two rounds, needed retooling. The notable adjustments are as follows:
Adopting a more traditional eight-team, three-round structure, where the first round will consist of three-game series and the final two rounds will be five-game series
The first round will feature a 2-1 format, where Games 1 and 2 take place on the higher seed’s home court and Game 3 (if necessary) would be hosted by the lower seed.
No more byes
No reseeding after each round
For those who are visual learners, here are the brackets under the now old and new formats:
The main gripe WNBA enthusiasts had with the prior playoff structure was the single-elimination nature of the first two rounds. Sue Bird, Cheryl Reeve, Curt Miller, and several other players and coaches have voiced this opinion. Though, in an attempt to address these concerns, the league created another problem: decreasing the importance of the regular season.
While rather unique in North American professional sports, the W’s previous playoff format properly rewarded teams for their performance over a 30-plus-game regular season through byes and reseeding. These well-earned advantages were a countermeasure to how allowing two-thirds of the league’s teams into the playoffs diluted the importance of the regular season. Perhaps the No. 3 and No. 4 teams had earned the right to a second-round series instead of suffering through a single-elimination game. Then the WNBA should have simply extended the second-round to a three-game series.
I haven’t even mentioned the bizarre hypothetical where a No. 8 seed could now host a series-deciding game against a No. 1 seed in the first round. With all due respect to the New York Liberty, would they, by virtue of their 12-20 record, have earned the right to host the 26-6 Connecticut Sun in a do-or-die first-round matchup?
To be sure, the league must take into account financial considerations and how best to grow its audience when making decisions like this. After all, the maximum number of postseason games under the new format is 27; it was just 19 using the prior structure (and 23 games if only the second round had been extended to a series). As many professional leagues have determined, more playoff games equals more eyes on the product and more dollars. Of course, we, the WNBA fans, want that for the league. However, the harsh truth is that, strictly in terms of fairness, the WNBA playoff system needed a minor tweak, yet it received a complete overhaul.
Adam’s Top 25
When I joined Megan Gauer on her podcast Unplugged last week, she described the difficulty of putting together a top 25 list each week, particularly this early in the season. “Now I’m worried what I’ve gotten myself into committing to doing a top 25 each week,” I mused aloud.
Nevertheless, I’ve decided, perhaps unwisely, to soldier on and put together an updated ranking of the top 25 teams in the country based on games played through yesterday. Once again, this list is based on the criterion of who would win if teams played tomorrow on a neutral court. If you agree with every single one of my picks, you’re probably lying, but please let me know in the comments. If I have committed the cardinal sin (no pun intended, Stanford fans) of disrespecting your favorite team, please also post your thoughts in the comments. Enjoy!
Her Hoop Stats content in case you missed it
The Her Hoop Stats team released the following podcast content this past week:
On Courtside, Christy Winters-Scott and Gabe Ibrahim broke down Texas’ upset win at Stanford, Arizona’s overtime victory against Louisville, Indiana’s dominant performance versus Kentucky, and Paige Bueckers’ amazing sophomore season debut.
On the latest episode of Unplugged, Megan Gauer and I spoke about my top 25 rankings as well as the WNBA’s playoff format changes.
In the debut of her weekly series covering the Pac-12, Kim Doss detailed how the preseason polls were right (and wrong) and revealed her votes for Pac-12 Player of the Week and Pac-12 Freshman of the Week.
Last season, Virginia Tech qualified for its first NCAA tournament in fifteen years and made the round of 32 for the first time in program history. Gabe Ibrahim explained why the Hokies are poised to improve upon last season’s unprecedented performance.
Calvin Wetzel chronicled Nafa Haidara’s remarkable journey from Mali to NCAA Division I basketball at Chicago State.
Calvin and Megan evaluated the teams participating in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament and offered various predictions, including the tournament’s winner, the most interesting first-round matchup, and the best potential non-championship games.
Gabe broke down film of Ashley Owusu’s performance against Baylor and detailed why she is one of the best point guards in the country.
Other recommended content
For Global Sport Matters, Mikaela Brewer revealed the mental and emotional toll Stanford experienced behind the scenes last season on its path to a national championship.
Doug Feinberg of The Associated Press discussed the ongoing efforts to get more collegiate coaching opportunities for Black women.
For The Next, Natalie Heavren explored the potential challenges Loyola may face when it moves from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Atlantic 10 next season.
Maryland’s Angel Reese suffered a Jones fracture during her freshman year last season, sidelining her for nearly three months. Rehab was physically and mentally draining, yet Chantel Jennings of The Athletic described the maturity and perspective Reese gained during her recovery.
Jim Allen of The Spokesman-Review wrote about how Title IX shaped Tara Vanderveer’s career and her ongoing fight against gender inequity in college athletics.
Trivia question of the week
What are the only two schools to win both an AIAW championship and an NCAA title?