No. 1 South Carolina’s showdown with No. 5 UConn ‘par for the course’ for Gamecocks

Tracy Glantz/

South Carolina women’s basketball is gearing up for a heavyweight battle against UConn on Sunday in Hartford, Connecticut, where eyes in the college basketball world will fixate on the rematch between the final two teams standing in last year’s national championship game.

But amid the commotion the game (noon, Fox) will draw in, USC’s mindset from the earlier parts of the season remains unchanged.

“It’s par for the course,” head coach Dawn Staley said. “This is what we do. We knew who was on the schedule. We knew who we had, we know who we have after UConn.”

No. 1 South Carolina will venture to Connecticut in an effort to beat No. 5 UConn in their home state for the first time — but for the Gamecocks, it’s not much different from any other road game.

The moment isn’t lost on them, though. USC knows what type of program Geno Auriemma has built. Senior forward Aliyah Boston still remembers the feelings after the team defeated UConn for the first time in 2020, when she was a freshman.

“It was exciting. Everyone talked about it,” Boston said. “We didn’t beat them before. But I think that’s changed, and so we look at is as, ‘OK, UConn’s on the schedule. We’re gonna go and we’re gonna compete.’”

The Gamecocks also understand the caliber of crowd that will await them. They’ll play in front of a sold-out atmosphere Sunday with white and navy at every turn.

The game plan and preparation remain the same, Staley said, but those who haven’t played in that environment will have to adjust when they get there.

“It’s hard because they don’t know,” Staley said. “As much heat that we put on them from being prepared just for our practices, it’s hard. They won’t know. ... You really can’t until you’re actually sitting on that bench.”

South Carolina is keeping its eyes set on the task at hand, doing its best to shut out any noise surrounding the game.

The team is no stranger to high-level road games this season. It played Stanford in front of a sold-out crowd in November, coming away with an overtime victory. USC’s also played with lively SEC crowds cheering against the Gamecocks.

“We know that every time we play, especially away, there’s gonna be a great crowd,” Boston said.

USC has beaten the Huskies three times in the last four meetings, with the most recent win being the 2022 national championship.

UConn has dealt with injury troubles all season. It lost star guard Paige Bueckers (ACL) before the season started, and later lost freshman forward Ice Brady for the year to a dislocated patella in her right knee. Sophomore Azzi Fudd has only played nine games with her share of injuries.

Still, the Huskies enter Sunday as the No. 5 team in the country with a 21-2 record.

“I think they’re just elevating,” Staley said. “When they have other people out, the other ones are stepping up.”

Redshirt-freshman guard Raven Johnson didn’t get to face UConn last year due to a knee injury that kept her out for all but two games.

She got action this season in early non-conference games against Maryland and Stanford, and said she learned from the veterans on how to handle those environments.

“Honestly, the thing that I was watching was the seniors,” Johnson said. “The way they brought us together, they were always talking to us.”

Boston recalled the seniors from her freshman year telling her to remain poised when facing UConn. She’s relaying that same message to this young group of Gamecocks who haven’t seen the Huskies up close yet.

The team is doing what it can to not make the game bigger than it is. It will seek to gain a 23-0 record, looking past the surrounding media attention on this year’s game.

“We can’t worry about that,” Boston said. “What’s important is the inside circle, what we know that we have going on and just staying focused on that. Whatever people write, they write.”