It’s not often you see a team take a 44-4 lead in the NCAA tournament, but that’s what top seed South Carolina did on Friday against Howard en route to a win. from 79-21.
The Gamecocks (30-2) can be that dominant, and the eighth-seeded Miami Hurricanes are fully aware of that ahead of their second-round game Sunday in Columbia, South Carolina (3 p.m. ABC).
“To see them live, in person, sitting there at the side of the pitch is impressive. It’s almost ridiculous,” UM coach Katie Meier said. “You really feel like this is a WNBA roster. Thanks to Dawn (Staley) and her team. We’re all so grateful to the people who really push our sport, and Dawn is absolutely someone who does it for us.
“We lost Pat (Summitt, the legendary Tennessee coach) and things happened. Muffet (McGraw) no longer coaches. So Dawn is someone we look up to, and she deserves all the credit and praise and great success she’s had. I am truly grateful to him.
The Gamecocks, who will play at home, will be aiming for their eighth Sweet 16 in nine tournaments under Staley, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and Hall of Famer. Meier’s UM teams have never made it past the second round in seven tries.
“I’m not so grateful for their recruitment because they’re really, really, really good. They are difficult to recruit,” Meier said. “They deserved it. They filled the stands and that’s great for our sport. It might not be great for Miami all the time, but great for our sport, right?”
Among the many talented players on the South Carolina roster is Aliyah Boston, a 6-5 junior forward who is one of the most dominant players in the country.
Boston has 25 straight double-doubles, the longest active streak in the nation and the longest streak in SEC history. She leads her team in points, rebounds and blocks per game and is shooting 55% from the field. The US Virgin Islands native is a finalist for National Player of the Year.
“I think what impresses me the most about Aliyah Boston is her game management, her composure and her IQ,” Meier said. “It’s not just, ‘Oh my God, she’s tall and can do a double-double. She’s really crafty. She’s really smart. She’s really smart. She gets the ball in the right spot. She’s as good as advertised or better.”
Although South Carolina will be heavily favored, the Hurricanes (21-10) insist they are not intimidated. They’re on a hot streak, having won nine of their last 11 games, including a first-round win over South Florida. And they’re used to playing the No. 1 seed because North Carolina State and Louisville are conference foes.
The Canes upset Louisville in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
“South Carolina is a good team, we all know they have some really great people, someone like Aliyah Boston, who hasn’t been arrested,” UM freshman guard Ja’ said. Leah Williams. “But honestly, I just think being together will work in our favor playing Miami basketball.”
Staley doesn’t take UM lightly.
“I see a really hot Miami team hitting the ball pretty well,” Staley said. “They share the ball. They are linked. You know, they have players who can apply a lot of pressure on the ball and be disruptive. We have to kind of disrupt that, disrupt their flow, their offensive flow, because if you allow them to take the hits they take unchallenged, it’s going to be a long day for us.
Meier is eager for the challenge.
“It’s a great team, South Carolina. They’re just gorgeous,” she said. “They play hard. They defend like their life depends on it, and they keep it really simple and they are really going to their strengths. We have a hell of a challenge. But if you can ever be ready to face such a talented team, at least we’ve already played against two No. 1 seeds. We’ll see how we line up once the ball will be knocked down.