The top two programs in women's college basketball will be playing each other on Sunday afternoon when No. 2 Stanford hosts No. 1 South Carolina. These are the two most recent national champions, and this battle of the titans should help tell the programs more about their strengths and weaknesses early in the season.
As Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer said: "It's a win-win."
The two teams have been dominating on both sides of the ball and have impressive margins of victory against light early season schedules. South Carolina is 3-0 with an average margin of victory of 49.7 points, while Stanford is 5-0, winning by an average of 46.6 points.
The only ranked opponent either team has faced is No. 17 Maryland -- a team the Gamecocks beat 81-56 on Nov. 11. Coincidentally, Stanford knocked out Maryland in the most recent Sweet 16.
The Cardinal eventually made it to the Final Four, but they didn't get a chance to defend their 2021 national title because they fell to UConn. However, a new season means a new opportunity. Stanford has a deep roster that hasn't had to rely too much on their two All-Americans yet, although they'll likely be needed as the competition gets tougher.
Dawn Staley is trying to build a dynasty as her Gamecocks' look to defend their 2022 NCAA championship. South Carolins is witnessing what appears to be a breakout season for Zia Cooke. Aliyah Boston is sharing the spotlight, but she is not taking it easy as she has already registered two double-doubles this season.
Stanford leads the all-time series 6-2, but the Gamecocks won their last encounter 65-61 on Dec. 21, 2021.
How to watch No. 1 South Carolina at No. 2 Stanford
- Date: Sunday, Nov. 20
- Location: Maples Pavilion -- Stanford, CA
- Time: 3:00 p.m. ET
- TV: ABC
- Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
What to watch
Zia Cooke is taking charge
Boston -- the 2022 Naismith Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year -- led her team in scoring, rebounds, blocks and steals last season. She is still a force to reckon with and is averaging a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds per game, while shooting better than 71 percent from the field. However, she is not the only player of note for the Gamecocks.
Cooke has taken a big jump from last season. She averaged 10.7 points per game in the 2021-22 campaign. Now, the senior guard is leading South Carolina's offense in the early going at 16.7 points per game and has shown improved three-point shooting at 50 percent (9-of-18) in the first three games of this season.
Staley isthis season, and Cooke is one of the players who she believes has the talent to play more than one role. Cooke was a point guard in high school but has mostly played shooting guard for South Carolina. This year, Staley had Cooke run the point during preseason so she could get an "understanding of how the position works at this level" and therefore be even more knowledgable on offense.
Stanford is not just relying on All-Americans
The Cardinal attach starts with All-Americans Cameron Brink and Haley Jones, but neither of them have had to carry the team thus far this season. The leading scorer is currently senior guard Hannah Jump with 13.2 points per game. She has also been impressive from beyond the arc as she is a blistering 20-of-34 (58.8 percent) from 3-point range.
Sophomore forward Kiki Iriafen is the second leading scorer at 11.8 points per game. Another solid contributor on the offense so far has been Lauren Betts, the No. 1 recruit of the class of 2022. Betts is averaging 10.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. She's a threat on the defense too, as she is second on the team with 10 blocks -- only Brink has registered more (19).
Of course, this doesn't mean Brink and Jones are not valuable players anymore. Brink is averaging 10.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, while Jones contributes 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. They'll both be needed to succeed against a South Carolina squad with plenty of talent and versatility.
Stanford will have to get past South Carolina's defense
After five games, Stanford has the eightht best scoring offense in the nation with an average of 91 points per game. As a team, the Cardinal are shooting at 55.1 percent from the field, which has been a real team effort because eight players are shooting at 52 percent or better.
However, that offensive depth will be put to the test on Sunday. South Carolina had one of the top defenses in the nation last season, and that continues to be a strength for this team. The Gamecocks are holding opponents to 39.3 points per game and just 24.3 percent shooting from the field. Although South Carolina has only played three games, the Gamecocks deserve credit for holding No. 17 Maryland to just 56 points last week.
Pick to win
South Carolina: This will probably be a close game, but the Gamecocks will survive if Boston has one of her signature monster games. Boston scored at least 18 points in 18 games last season. She also registered a total of 30 double-doubles through the 2021-22 campaign, including 27 consecutive ones. If there is a time to shine early this season, it's certainly in a battle against No. 2 Stanford.