COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina decided to challenge the Baylor perimeter players from the tip. Packing in the lane with their 2-3 zone, the Gamecocks focused on taking away the buckets by the All-American front court of Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox and forcing the Lady Bear perimeter players to make outside shots.
Those Baylor guards didn’t hesitate as Chloe Jackson showed off her midrange prowess to the tune of 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting and Juicy Landrum went 3-for-4 from the 3-point line for 15 points as the fourth-ranked Lady Bears defeated No. 18 South Carolina 94-69 Sunday evening at Colonial Life Arena.
“They challenged us to shoot it from the perimeter from the very start,” Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey said in her postgame radio interview. “They played in the paint in a 2-3 zone. Every one of our perimeter players shot the ball well.”
It wasn’t just Jackson and Landrum with the buckets for Baylor on the outside. DiDi Richards finished with seven points, and Moon Ursin poured in nine points on 2-for-2 shooting from deep.
“Everybody know we don’t have (Alexis) Morris. We don’t have a true point guard,” Mulkey said. “I thought Juicy and Chloe and DiDi didn’t bat an eye. Moon Ursin, I can’t say enough about her.”
Baylor was up 9-3 nearly three minutes into the contest before Kalani Brown even made a bucket on her second touch of the night.
“I knew to relieve the pressure (inside), we had to attack them,” Jackson said in her postgame radio interview. “I knew I couldn’t be passive. I had to get after my midrange game tonight.”
Because of the way the Lady Bears shot the ball from the outside, South Carolina was forced to get out of its zone defense and go man to man. With Brown four inches taller than Alexis Jennings at center and Lauren Cox two inches above LeLe Grissett at power forward, the Lady Bears went to their bread and butter – the high-low offense – where Cox has the ball at the top of the key and passes it inside to Brown on the block.
Brown had 22 points and nine boards, while Cox nearly had a triple double with 10 points, eight rebounds and she tied her career-high with six assists.
Baylor finished with a 52-28 advantage in the paint. The Lady Bears also edged the Gamecocks in fast break points, 14-11, an area that was a major focus coming into Sunday’s game. But probably the biggest challenge that awaited the Lady Bears in Colonial Life Arena was the environment as South Carolina led the nation a year ago in attendance by more than 3,000.
“Coach keyed in on that all week of practice,” Jackson said. “We knew if we could handle the pressure and get out after them early, we could silence the crowd.”
That’s exactly what happened as Baylor scored the first five points and then led by 13 less than four minutes into the game.
“We talk about how to handle yourself when the crowd gets into it,” Mulkey said. “Keep a cool head and a hot game. When you make shots like we did to start the game, the crowd can’t get into it. That’s a credit to those kids in that locker room.”
While you can look at the box score and the points column and see that all but two Baylor players who entered the game scored, what you may not see at first glance is how well each Lady Bear played when she entered the game. Aquira DeCosta made her collegiate debut against the Gamecocks after she missed the first six games of the season.
“This was a step forward in (all) of their confidence,” Mulkey said. “Aquira got valuable minutes. To watch kids grow and become more comfortable, that’s all you can do as a coach. You can make mistakes with effort, just don’t make mistakes because you didn’t know something or forgot something or weren’t focused. On the defensive end of the floor, we still have to get better. We have to quit allowing dribble penetration and letting them drive middle. We still have to get better. It was a good test for us today.”