‘We just need to simplify’: USC uses another second-half surge to defeat UCLA

Tracy Glantz/tglantz@thestate.com

South Carolina women’s basketball led the game for 11 out of 40 minutes on Tuesday — just enough to secure a victory.

No. 1 USC’s 73-64 win against No. 15 UCLA at Colonial Life Arena was far from a sure thing early on, and it took some halftime adjustments for the Gamecocks to come back, pull away and get the victory.

The Bruins controlled the first half on both ends, fueled by senior guard Charisma Osborne spacing the floor. Osborne scored 12 of her 24 points in the first half on 4-of-8 shooting, and her outside shot-making opened up opportunities for UCLA.

South Carolina, meanwhile, scored a season-low 27 points in the first half. UCLA clogged the paint defensively, and the Gamecocks couldn’t respond with outside shooting, making just one 3-pointer all game.

But just like some of its other victories this year, South Carolina (7-0) had a plan to correct those first-half shortcomings.

“I think it was just about simplifying the game,” senior center Aliyah Boston said. “That’s what coach (Dawn Staley) told us going into halftime. She was like, ‘We just need to simplify.’ And we just started reading what they were giving us and taking what they were giving us.”

USC fell behind by as many as 10 points, but made a late surge in the second quarter. The Gamecocks went on a 6-0 run capped off by a layup from Boston late in the second quarter, making the halftime score 31-27 UCLA.

They found much success inside in the second half when looking to both Boston and junior center Kamilla Cardoso for scoring. The duo combined for 34 points, 19 rebounds and nine blocks against the Bruins.

“If we can get those two to play together and play like they did tonight, it gives us another layer of people having to scout us in a different way,” Staley said.

Staley’s squad also got a lift from graduate transfer guard Kierra Fletcher, who scored eight points in a row at one point and finished with a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Fletcher did most of her damage from midrange during her personal scoring spree, as the UCLA defense gave her room to hit those jumpshots.

“That’s your shot,” Staley said of Fletcher’s jumpers. “She blocked out the noise and beared down and made some buckets for us.”

The Gamecocks were able to manage the Bruins on both ends, even limiting Osborne to 2-of-10 shooting from the field in the final 20 minutes.

South Carolina’s made a habit of these second-half surges in the early season, particularly against the elite teams in college basketball.

The team led for most of the game against then-No. 17 Maryland, but did not take off until midway through the third quarter after a sequence of fouls seemed to ignite the Gamecocks. After the Terrapins shot technical free throws, USC went on an 8-0 run and never looked back.

South Carolina’s game against No. 2 Stanford somewhat mirrored Tuesday’s against UCLA. The team trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half, but the bench unit helped bring the halftime lead to a four-point gap.

The Cardinal still managed to hold a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but South Carolina stormed back to win that game in overtime. Boston hit a game-tying shot in regulation, and a couple of clutch 3-pointers from sophomore Bree Hall helped seal the victory.

“I definitely think the team would love to put together a great game,” Fletcher said. “Four quarters, not just the second half.”

The main difference between those games and the one on Tuesday? Those victories came on the road. South Carolina benefited from the crowd noise inside Colonial Life Arena, which was especially a factor any time the Gamecocks were trying to cut into the Bruins’ lead.

“They were loud and made it hard for UCLA to hear their play calls and what they wanted, which is always in our benefit,” Boston said. “Our home court advantage, I think, is top-two in the country, and not two.”

South Carolina thrives in the second half, but will look to shore up its first-half struggles as the season goes along.

Fletcher said she and her teammates need to play with better pace to get out to better starts.

“We haven’t really started well,” Fletcher said. “It’s been our second half that’s gotten us, so we just need to fix that.”