Michelle Smith: No. 2 Stanford visits No. 1 South Carolina in Final Four rematch
One point blank shot in the final second of the game that didn’t fall set off two reactions at once, joyous celebration and deep disappointment.
Those two moments find their way back together tonight at 4 p.m. PT in Columbia, South Carolina when the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks face the newly No. 2 Stanford Cardinal in a nationally-televised matchup that will tell both teams where they stand heading into the start of a new year and conference play.
Stanford owns a 6-1 advantage over South Carolina heading into their eighth all-time meeting, the last two coming in the Final Four. Back in 2017, it was the Gamecocks who won on the way to the program’s first title. Last spring, it was Stanford in a national semifinal game that came down to the final shot, the Cardinal winning 66-65.
“I’m over it,” said South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley. “I was over it a week later. It wasn’t our tournament, it wasn’t our national championship to get.”
But the top-ranked Gamecocks (11-0) are playing like they want the next one.
“We are a totally different team than last year,” Staley said. “I think we are a little more sharp in what we are doing and we are at home, and that should help. We want to win because we want to win. If we do that and our fans think we are avenging a loss, that’s great.”
Stanford, playing in their first No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup since 2012, is coming off a big win over Tennessee in Knoxville and now the No. 1 team in the country on the road, a trip that Tara VanDerveer called “the deep end of the pool” for her team late last week.
Both teams have played among the toughest nonconference schedules in the country. The Gamecocks and Stanford will both be playing their sixth game against a ranked opponent. Both teams have two top-five wins.
Staley said her team will look to “disrupt” Stanford’s fluid offense and their transition game. And they will do what they do so well - rebounding and play tough defense.
Stanford is going to need much more from sophomore post Cameron Brink in her matchup with Aliyah Boston, the early frontrunner for national player of the year. Brink’s minutes were greatly limited by foul trouble against the Lady Vols. Haley Jones’ 18-point, 19-rebound effort against Tennessee bodes well in Stanford’s battle on the boards.
“I think this is going to be a great game for women’s basketball,” Staley said.
Without a doubt.