COLUMBIA, S.C. – Clemson coach Audra Smith knew the dilemma she was facing Thursday night.
South Carolina’s No. 6-ranked women’s basketball team was fresh off hitting 16 3-pointers in routing Minnesota days earlier. Smith and the Tigers came to town with what Smith called a “pick your poison” situation: Try and stop the perimeter game that was one 3-pointer short of school record days prior or try and shut down the inside game?
“The inside game is impossible,” Smith said following South Carolina’s 83-61 win Thursday night.
The Gamecocks dominated offensively in the post, as senior center Alaina Coates and junior forward A’ja Wilson were too much for the Tigers to handle.
“That’s our game plan,” coach Dawn Staley said. “That’s what’s been our bread and butter for the past few seasons.”
It served as such on Thursday after South Carolina had used its outside shooting Sunday. Wilson had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Coates had 19 points and 10 rebounds. The two battled it out to be the team’s leading scorer throughout, but spent much of the night working off each other to spark the offense.
“High-low is great,” Coates said. “We’ve got the best high-low duo in the nation. We are doing better with getting each other the ball, especially with sagging man and zone type situations. The fact that we can do that now is pretty darn dangerous.”
Their chemistry was readily apparent in the way Wilson praised Coates for saying “darn.” The two shared a laugh and some more jokes before being reminded their microphones were on, leading to laughter again.
The Gamecocks had a cold shooting night from deep against Clemson, hitting just 4 of 14 from 3-point range. But it’s the threat of balance that makes South Carolina tough to defend night in and night out.
“I think that’s what makes us, us,” Wilson said. “I think that’s a great balance to have, where we have a great inside game and also the outside game. I think it puts teams on their backs. They don’t really know how to guard us. If you take away the outside, you know we always have the inside. If you take away the inside, you have the outside. I think that’s a good balance that we have.
“That’s a weapon that we use. Every night, they’ve gotta come out and play us honest.”
On Thursday night, it was the inside game that got the job done for South Carolina, which moved to 8-1. Coach Dawn Staley was quick to remind, though, “it’s not the only way.”
“I think we do have to take some outside shots, open up that zone,” she said. “I haven’t handcuffed any of our perimeter players. I think our post players do a great job at looking at their partner down there, something that we have drilled over and over again not just this year, over the past few years to capitalize on our size in there. That’s what we will continue to do. They shoot it at a really high percentage.
“We just have to keep it balanced. We’ve gotta be able to hit some outside shots and shoot those outside shots in rhythm.”