The Wolfpack can’t duplicate its upset win of a season ago, falling to a bigger, stronger Gamecocks team in the opener.
Reynolds Coliseum, Raleigh
Why the Wolfpack lost
South Carolina’s size and depth were too much for N.C. State. Wolfpack center Elissa Cunane, in particular, struggled to make an impact offensively against the Gamecocks’ Aliyah Boston, Kamilla Cardoso, Victaria Sexton and Laeticia Amihere – all 6-2 or taller.
“We were just committed to it,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “We wanted to make her work as hard as we could.”
The Northern Guilford alumna finished with 8 points on 4-for-11 shooting and was constantly pushed away from the basket. The 6-foot-5 senior did not have an offensive rebound and did not get to the free-throw line.
“It was tough,” Cunane said. “We don’t necessarily get to practice against that every day. But it was good for us to test ourselves against them.”
Too many possessions short-circuited with a Pack player stranded in the paint and nowhere to go against the taller Gamecocks. State was much more successful when Jakia Brown-Turner and Raina Perez were able to attack off the dribble, but it didn’t happen often enough and they didn’t get enough help.
“When we were able to come off a pick and maybe get a step on somebody, you had 6-5 or 6-6 waiting in there and doing a great job of, if not blocking, altering shots,” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said. “They were the aggressors, and maybe because of their defense we ended up settling for jump shots.”
Defensively, the Pack had trouble fighting through the multitude of screens South Carolina sets for its talented guards, who combined for 45 points. Zia Cooke led the Gamecocks with 17 and Destanni Henderson added 14.
The closest State was able to get was one point in the third quarter. South Carolina outscored the Pack 14-7 to close the period and simply wore down State.
South Carolina — G Zia Cooke 17 points, 3 rebounds; G Destanni Henderson 14 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds; F Aliyah Boston 8 points, 5 rebounds, 5 blocks.
N.C. State — F Jakia Brown-Turner 18 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists; G Raina Perez 18 points, 3 assists; C Elissa Cunane 8 points, 3 rebounds.
Three things we learned
1. Raina Perez kept State in the game in the first half. During an opening 20 minutes when the Wolfpack struggled to get anything going offensively, the 5-4 guard scored 11 of State’s 19 points.
2. South Carolina is big and deep and looks every bit a national championship contender. It wasn’t just 6-5 Aliyah Boston and 6-7 Kamilla Cardoso. Six-foot-2 Victaria Saxton and 6-4 Laeticia Amihere also rotated through the post for the Gamecocks as they outscored State 30-24 in the paint. South Carolina’s bench outscored the Wolfpack’s reserves 18-7.
3. Jakia Brown-Turner is fearless. The 6-foot junior wing repeatedly took taller Gamecocks to the basket off the dribble and finished with 18 points for the Pack.
South Carolina: At South Dakota, 7 p.m. Friday (ESPN News)
N.C. State: Wofford, 7 p.m. Friday (ACC Network Extra)
Contact Joe Sirera at 336-373-7034, and follow @JoeSireraSports on Twitter.