On Nov. 13, 2015, the OSU women’s basketball team opened its 2015-16 season with an 88-80 road loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks. Just over a year later, the Buckeyes will get a chance at revenge.
OSU will host the Gamecocks on Monday in a battle between two of college basketball’s best. South Carolina currently sits at No. 4 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll with the Buckeyes close behind at No. 7.
“We know we’re going to be in for a real battle,” OSU coach Kevin McGuff said.
Tipoff in Columbus will serve as the season opener for the Gamecocks. In its only exhibition match on Nov. 6, South Carolina downed Benedict College by a score of 120-49.
A season ago, the Gamecocks went 33-2 with an 11-0 record on the road. The team’s only loss in the regular season came to the eventual-champion UConn Huskies at home, snapping South Carolina’s perfect 22-0 record. The Gamecocks also fell 80-72 to Syracuse in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament to end its season.
South Carolina has lost seven players from last year’s team. Guards Khadijah Sessions, Tina Roy and Tiffany Mitchell, and forwards Sarah Imovbioh and Asia Dozier have graduated, and forwards Jatarie White and India Farmer have departed from the program as well.
With the losses, South Carolina lost 37.7 points per game on offense, good for 47.9 percent of the team’s scoring a season ago.
Despite the roster turnover, the Gamecocks still possess plenty of talent. Two of South Carolina’s top-three scorers from a season ago have returned. Junior forward A’ja Wilson led the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game and senior center Alaina Coates contributed 12.1 points and a team-high 10.3 rebounds per game.
Three ESPN top-100 prospects have joined as true freshman. 5-foot-10 point guard Tyasha Harris (No. 28), 5-foot-6 point guard Araion Bradshaw (No. 33) and 6-foot-2 forward Mikiah Harrigan (No. 72) will join 5-foot-8 guard Victoria Patrick to form the Gamecocks’ talented new class.
Former Kentucky forward Alexis Jennings, who put up 10 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the Wildcats in 2015-16, has transferred into the program and will sit out the entirety of the 2016-17 season.
“They have an absolutely loaded roster with talent,” McGuff said. “I have great respect for them.”
The Buckeyes have no shortage of talent on its roster, either, and this year’s team figures to be in a more favorable position than a year ago.
“We’ve got a little more depth,” McGuff said. “We’ve got a little more size and physicality around the basket.”
In last season’s matchup between the two teams, the Buckeyes got 36 points from then-sophomore guard Kelsey Mitchell and 23 from then-senior guard Ameryst Alston. The rest of the team combined for just 21 points.
The main difference in the contest was the play of the bigs. Wilson led the Gamecocks with 20 points and 14 rebounds and Coates added 17 points and 13 boards. OSU got just eight points out of its forwards and center, but the group did grab 33 rebounds.
The Buckeyes will now be able to balance the Gamecocks’ post play with the addition of redshirt junior forward Stephanie Mavunga, who put up 15 points and 14 rebounds in OSU’s season opener against Duquesne.
OSU looked like a much better all-around team against Duquesne than they did in its exhibition win over Ashland, but Mavunga knows the team must be even better to compete with South Carolina.
“We need to still get better defensively and get better with rebounding,” Mavunga said. “We need to communicate a little bit more, but I think we’re headed towards the right direction.”
The matchup itself is something that McGuff believes is a positive for women’s college basketball.
“It’s a great opportunity and it’s great for our game,” McGuff said. “There needs to be more games like this in women’s basketball in November just to create some excitement.”
Tipoff is set for 6:00 p.m. on Monday at Value City Arena.