When Kansas University faces South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Gamecocks’ coach Dawn Staley said the game will come down to the teams’ point guards.
In the teams’ first-ever meeting, Kansas senior Angel Goodrich will match up with South Carolina senior Ieasia Walker, who was named Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year and led the Gamecocks in their first-round victory over South Dakota State with 15 points and four assists.
“We both have pretty good point guards,” said Staley, a three-time Olympic gold medalist for USA Basketball. “Whoever wins that point guard match-up will probably win the game.”
The Jayhawks will take on No. 17 South Carolina at 8:30 tonight at the Coors Events Center.
Staley added that limiting Goodrich, the “engine that makes (Kansas) go,” will be the Gamecocks’ primary focus. Goodrich averaged 23.3 points per game in the 2012 postseason and shot 50.8 percent, going 30-for-59 in three NCAA Tournament games.
In Saturday’s first-round game against Colorado, Goodrich tied teammate Carolyn Davis with a game-high 14 points and added eight assists and two steals.
Kansas coach Bonnie Henrickson agreed with her South Carolina counterpart, but she added Goodrich’s teammates can’t leave the whole game to her.
“This time of the year, the game is controlled by your point guard,” Henrickson said. “Both of us ask a lot of our point guards, and both of us are blessed to have really, really talented point guards, and mine makes me look pretty smart every day—really smart, actually. But other pieces have got to contribute.”
Kansas also will lean heavily on Davis, who most likely will battle with South Carolina sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch, the SEC’s top offensive rebounder. Both teams progressed to the second round by outscoring their opponents in the paint. Kansas scored 30 in the paint against Colorado, while South Carolina knocked down 42 inside against South Dakota State.
When Kansas (19-13) was selected as the 12th seed in the Norfolk region, many questioned whether the Jayhawks deserved to play in the NCAA Tournament at all. KU went 4-7 in its last 11 games, finishing 8-10 in the Big 12.
After Saturday’s 67-52 upset of Colorado, which looked a lot like last year’s first-round upset of Nebraska, Kansas is making a case for itself in the tournament.
“Kansas is showing why they are in the tournament,” Staley said. “If they can come in and play in the hostile environment like it was yesterday and win, they are much deserving. Anytime you can win on somebody else’s floor, it legitimizes you being here.”
Both teams are vying for back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. Coming off an NCAA Tournament run to the round of 16 in 2012, the Gamecocks won a school-record 11 conference games this season, finishing fifth in the SEC. South Carolina (25-7) ranks fifth in the country in defensive points allowed, giving up only 49.5 per game.
“We just have to take care of the ball,” Goodrich said. “We know they are known for their defense and their physicalness.”
Today’s winner will play again on Sunday in New Orleans.
With the home team Colorado out of the tournament, Kansas is expected to have the edge in fans. Its strong alumni base in western Kansas and Colorado includes CU athletic director Mike Bohn and CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle.
On Saturday, Boulder received 10.6 inches of snow, and poor visibility shut down a 154-mile stretch of I-70 between Denver and the Kansas border.
With the interstate reopened and little snow in the forecast, Kansas fans are expected to show at the Coors Event Center tonight.
“Every time we go on the road, we look at our circle we have and play for each other,” Davis said. “No matter how many (fans) we have, whether we have five or 20, we are going to work hard, and we are going to play hard for whoever we have cheering for us.”