Sunday Women's Hoops: Top-15 Battle, Mitchell Jersey Retirement
No. 6/4 South Carolina hosts No. 14/11 Maryland in its home opener on Sun., Nov. 12. Tipoff at Colonial Life Arena is set for 1 p.m. with a ceremony to retire the jersey of Gamecock alumna Tiffany Mitchell to begin at 12:35 p.m.
In honor of Veteran’s Day, the University’s Veterans & Military Affairs Department is hosting the USC Veteran’s Day 5K at 2 p.m. Sunday that begins and ends near the intersection of Greene and Lincoln Streets near Colonial Life Arena. Roads around the arena will be open to traffic through tipoff but will close shortly before the race start at 2 p.m. until approximately 3 p.m. The event registration, which begins at noon, will feature a DJ in the pavilion area in front of 1801 Grille. Following the race and awards ceremony, the family-friendly atmosphere will include a band, face painting, etc., which all are welcome to attend.
The Maryland Series
While this series began in the 1997-98 season, it became a regular match-up at the start of the 2017-18 campaign. The Gamecocks lead the overall series 5-2.
In the last six meetings, all of which have been top-20 matchups, South Carolina is 5-1, including three wins in College Park.
The Gamecocks and Terrapins met twice last season with South Carolina posting a pair of double-digit wins. After an 81-56 regular-season win in College Park (Nov. 11), the Gamecocks advanced to the 2023 NCAA Final Four with an 86-75 victory in Greenville, S.C. (Mar. 27).
By the Numbers
11 – South Carolina’s 11 scheduled games against ranked opponents is tied for the most among ranked teams. Five are non-conference games.
29 – The Gamecocks had 29 assists on their 43 made field goals in the season opener – 67.4 percent.
70 – South Carolina scored 70 of its 100 points against #10/10 Notre Dame (Nov. 6) in the paint.
Prior to today’s game, South Carolina will retire the jersey of Tiffany Mitchell, who was the program’s first SEC Player of the Year. The three-time All-American and 2015 Dawn Staley Award winner led the Gamecocks to their first NCAA Final Four in 2015. She was part of the program’s first SEC Regular-Season Championship in 2014, adding two more by the end of her career, and its first SEC Tournament title (2015) with a second coming in 2016. Mitchell was taken in the first round of the 2016 WNBA Draft by the Indiana Fever and was named to the WNBA All-Rookie team. In 2023, free agency took Mitchell to the Minnesota Lynx.
Even with opening the season against a top-10 opponent, South Carolina ranks among the nation’s best in scoring offense (14th, 100.0 ppg), field goal percentage (15th, .544), assists per game (2nd, 29.0), blocks per game (1st, 11.0), assist-to-turnover ratio (14th, 2.07) and bench points per game (22nd, 41.0).
The season opener saw the first career starts for senior Bree Hall and sophomore Chloe Kitts. Kamilla Cardoso and Te-Hina Paopao drew the first starts of their Gamecock careers. Only sophomore Raven Johnson had started for Staley before, drawing the assignment three times last season.
The Gamecocks’ block party has not slowed down. Cardoso and Ashlyn Watkins combined for eight of the team’s 11 swats in the season opener, keeping the team ranked atop the NCAA in blocks per game.
Seven Gamecocks handed out at least two assists in the season opener with three dishing it more than five times – Johnson (7), Paopao (6), MiLaysia Fulwiley (6).
Senior center Kamilla Cardoso quieted any remaining critics with her 20-point, 15-rebound outing in the season opener against #10/10 Notre Dame. She poured in 13 of those 20 points in the third quarter alone, pushing the game out of reach.
Since 1976-77, the first season comprehensive site records are available, South Carolina is 38-9 in home openers. Since the opening of Colonial Life Arena for the 2002-03 season, the Gamecocks are 19-2.
In the Dawn Staley era (beginning 2008-09), the program is 13-2 in home openers, including wins in the last 12. Today’s game is the third home opener played against a ranked opponent. The previous two such games were also season openers – unranked Gamecocks lost to #5 Xavier 84-65 on Nov. 12, 2010; #2 Gamecocks topped #6 Ohio State 88-80 on Nov. 13, 2015.
Any question about South Carolina’s bench points falling off with last season’s top bench scorers moving into the starting lineup were dispelled early. The Gamecocks’ six-woman bench netted 41 of the team’s 100 points in the season opener against #10/10 Notre Dame, ranking South Carolina 22nd in the nation in bench points.
Last season, the Gamecocks led the nation with 36.1 bench points per game. The second-place team (Georgia Southern) turned in 31.2.
All About the Assist
There are few things head coach Dawn Staley likes more than the extra pass. Long preaching that the ball will find who should shoot it, she has developed that mentality with year’s team early.
South Carolina assisted on 67.4 percent (29 of 43) of its made field goals in the season opener against #10/10 Notre Dame (Nov. 6).
Senior transfer Te-Hina Paopao is often mentioned by her teammates as a leader, despite her summer arrival to the program. The three-time All-Pac-12 selection illustrated that leadership beautifully in the season opener against #10/10 Notre Dame (Nov. 6). As the starter with the most experience at the position, the steady guard led the way in the opening 10 minutes with seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, two assists and two steals to keep the Gamecocks within a point at the end of the period.
Paopao transferred to South Carolina after a career offensive season. While her 13.1 points per game were slightly off her sophomore season average, her efficiency rose to 42.4 percent from 3-point range and 44.0 percent overall. Her 2.3 made 3s per game ranked second in the Pac-12, and she added 3.3 assists per game last season as well.
Both the local Columbia products team burst into their freshman seasons with memorable plays.
As a freshman, forward Ashlyn Watkins threw down the program’s first dunk (at Clemson, Nov. 17). Interestingly, it was not Watkins’ highlight of the game as she also hit a 3-pointer, which she considered a more rare occurrence.
This season, MiLaysia Fulwiley made a splash in the historic Paris season opener against #10/10 Notre Dame (Nov. 6), showing off her athleticism and sleight of hand on a transition layup in the second quarter that lit up social media, including NBA legends Magic Johnson and Kevin Durant. She finished her college debut with 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting, six steals and six assists, many of which left fans with jaws on the floor and eager to see what’s next for the young guard.