College Sports

Why Dawn Staley isn’t thrilled about South Carolina leading the nation in blocks

Dawn Staley previews South Carolina’s home matchup with Florida

South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley talks about how her Gamecocks can contain Florida's 3-point shooting and what USC needs to do better on defense despite leading the country in blocked shots per game.
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South Carolina women's basketball coach Dawn Staley talks about how her Gamecocks can contain Florida's 3-point shooting and what USC needs to do better on defense despite leading the country in blocked shots per game.

Who: No. 21 South Carolina (10-4, 2-0 SEC) vs. Florida (4-11, 0-2 SEC)

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10

Where: Colonial Life Arena

Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via Watch ESPN

Radio: 1320 AM in Columbia

Series history: South Carolina trails Florida in the all-time series, 20-17, but has won nine consecutive games against the Gators dating to 2012.

Last meeting: At Colonial Life Arena, the Gators and the Gamecocks were tied at halftime on Feb. 11 last season, before USC pulled away for a 64-57 win, powered by 22 points from A’ja Wilson and 18 from Tyasha Harris.


Holding off Florida’s rainstorm: Few teams in the country are more prolific from 3-point range than Florida, which ranks second in the SEC in attempts from long range, fourth in makes and second in 3-point rate. According to Her Hoop Stats, a full 39.1 percent of Florida’s shots this year have come from beyond the arc.

The Gators are led in their 3-point barrage by redshirt senior guard Fundu Nakkasoglu, who’s second in the SEC in 3-point percentage and 3-pointers made. She is one of the league’s top scorers at 18.2 points per game and does it by taking the majority of her shots from 3. She’ll be the focal point of USC’s defensive pressure on Thursday.

“You have to give her different looks defensively, you have to make it difficult for her, can’t give her any clean looks,” coach Dawn Staley said. “A third of their shots are from 3, so they all put them up. And they average about eight of them a game, so they live and die by it. We just gotta make sure we’re not giving them any clean looks.”

South Carolina’s perimeter defense ranks 203rd in the nation this year, but Staley said she has been pleased with it “at times” throughout the first 14 games.

Not feeling the block party: South Carolina leads the nation in blocked shots per game with an average of 7.6. Leading the way, junior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and freshman forward Victaria Saxton are both averaging more than 1.25 blocks per game.

But Staley was blunt when asked Wednesday what’s allowed her squad to be so good at shot-blocking.

“The ability to be a bad defensive team, because you get sucked into the ball,” Staley said. “When you have shot-blockers like (Mikiah) and Victaria, they get sucked into the ball, sucked into penetration. If you play a team like Alabama and now Florida who have some stretch fours, you can put yourself in a position where you’re trying to find a block or get a block and you’re giving up 3s.”

That being said, Staley is happy Herbert Harrigan and Saxton are able to get the blocks they have rather than letting shots go up uncontested. She just doesn’t want to rely on them too much.

“It’s a great stat to have until it hurts you,” she said.

Injury report: South Carolina freshman forward Elysa Wesolek hasn’t played the most minutes for the Gamecocks this season, appearing in just seven games and averaging three points a contest. But she will be sidelined for the Florida game and likely beyond after suffering a high ankle sprain in practice, Staley announced Wednesday. Wesolek dealt with other injuries to the same ankle in high school, Staley said.


South Carolina projected starting lineup: Junior guard Tyasha Harris, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper, freshman guard Destanni Henderson, redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings, junior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan

Florida projected starting lineup: Redshirt senior guard Funda Nakkasoglu, junior guard Delicia Washington, sophomore guard Kiara Smith, freshman forward Kristina Moore, junior forward Paige Robinson

South Carolina key stats: The Gamecocks’ opponents this season have taken just 21.1 percent of their shots from 3, the ninth-lowest rate in the country. When they do, however, they make the 3-pointers at a 31.6 percent clip. ... USC is averaging 14.9 offensive rebounds per game this season, which would be the team’s highest mark since 2012-2013. ... Tyasha Harris and Te’a Cooper are both averaging three or more assists per game and rank in the top 15 of the SEC in that statistic.

Florida key stats: The Gators rank last in the SEC and 236th in the nation in field goal percentage, making just 37.6 percent of their shots. On 2-point attempts, UF is shooting 42.7 percent. ... Florida’s assisted shot rate is 50.7 percent, 12th in the conference and 285th nationally. ... Junior guard Delicia Washington stands just 5-foot-10 but is averaging 8.3 rebounds per game this season, the most among SEC players under 6-feet.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.