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No. 4 Maryland women’s basketball vs No. 8 South Carolina preview

The Terps welcome a top-10 opponent to College Park in their second game of the 2019 slate

South Carolina v Maryland G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

In a what has become one of the must-see matchups of the women’s college basketball season, No. 4 Maryland will play host to No. 8 South Carolina on Sunday afternoon.

“We’re extremely excited about this top-10 matchup,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “We’re gonna see right away where were at, for both teams. We want to play against the best, we want to be tested and I think our non-conference schedule is gonna have us battle-tested this season.”

The Terps and Gamecocks have only played three times in each team’s respective history, meeting once in 1997 before playing in each of the last two seasons. Maryland managed to blow out South Carolina in the last meeting between the two historic programs, winning 85-61 in a game that saw six Terps reach double-figures in points.

The teams are set to tip-off at 3:00 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN.

South Carolina Gamecocks (1-0, 0-0 SEC)

2018 record: 23-10, 13-3 SEC

Head coach Dawn Staley has elevated the Gamecocks to one of the top programs in the country over her 11 year coaching career with the team, leading South Carolina to four conference regular-season titles and a national title in 2017. As one of the premier recruiters in the nation, Staley perennially has her team in position to compete for both the SEC and national titles.

Players to Know

Freshman guard Zia Cooke (No. 1) came to South Carolina as the No. 4 recruit in the class of 2019 and the No. 1 ranked point guard, two spots ahead of Maryland freshman point guard Ashley Owusu. A Naismith High School Girls Player of the Year finalist her senior year of high school, Cooke led all scorers in her Gamecock debut with 13 points in the team’s 103-43 victory over Alabama State and should to be in the conversation as one of the top freshman in the country this season.

Freshman forward Aliyah Boston (No. 4) is another one of South Carolina’s highly-touted newcomers coming into this season. Checking in as the No. 3 recruit in this year’s class and the top post player to come out of high school, Boston made a splash in her first action with the team as well, notching a triple-double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 10 blocks. Standing at 6’5, Boston will be an intriguing matchup for sophomore Terp forward Shakira Austin in the low post.

“She’s talented,” Frese said. “Tremendous shot blocker, rebounder, great size and length. She was one of the top players in the country for a reason.”

Senior guard Tyasha Harris (No. 52) is the elder statesman of the Gamecock starting lineup, being one of only two non-freshman starters for Staley. An All-SEC Second Team honoree in each of the last two seasons, Harris is the guiding hand for the Carolina offense and figures to push for a spot on the first team in her final season as a Gamecock.

Strength

Protecting the rim. Sample sizes are still super small given how young the new season is, but South Carolina’s season opening win was an expression of its ability to send shots back at the rim. Thanks in large part to Boston’s 10 swats, the Gamecocks currently lead Division I in blocks per game, making drives to the rim no easy task for opposing teams.

Weakness

Free throw shooting. The Gamecocks struggled from the charity stripe in their first game against Alabama State, though they managed to get to the line with relative ease. On 33 attempts from the free throw line, they’d only knock down 22 of them, putting them below 70 percent from that spot. They could conceivably turn it around against the Terps, but their first showing was not a strong one from the free throw line.

Three Things to Watch

1. How will the freshman play on the big stage? Though freshmen Ashley Owusu and Faith Masonius each dazzled in their Terp debuts, going from Wagner to South Carolina will certainly be a different atmosphere. Frese showed enough confidence in Owusu to start her in the team’s first game, and if she does so again on Sunday afternoon, it’ll be interesting to see how the young Terps perform in their first high-level action of their careers.

“We’re gonna have a lot of fan support on Sunday, and so a lot of them may have not played in such a big crowd,” Charles said. “I’m definitely reiterating just to be calm and poised and play their game, because ultimately we need to have that composure against this team.”

2. Will Taylor Mikesell continue to perform on both ends? Mikesell’s ability as a shooter is fairly well documented, the area she put the most work into over the offseason was her play on the defensive end. And the improvement has shown through Maryland’s first game, as the sophomore guard racked up three steals and proved her merit defending on the ball.

With a year of experience at the Division I level and a summer focused on improving defensively, Mikesell will need to bring it on both ends of the floor on Sunday if the Terps want to move to 2-0.

“That might have been the biggest game I played in,” Mikesell said of the 2018 game against South Carolina. “[I’m] just being confident and, like Kaila said, being poised and not getting too sped up in the moment.”

3. Will the Terps offense explode again? After scoring the most points in a single-game since 1992, the Terps’ offense looks as though it can be one of the best Frese has had at her disposal in her career. With seven different players reaching double figures against Wagner as well, Maryland will be looking to replicate its balanced offensive approach against the Gamecocks on Sunday.