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South Carolina Reasserts Itself Atop Women’s Hoops With L.S.U. Win

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South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley was actually dressed for an enormous game on Sunday.

Staley, who’s from North Philadelphia and is trying to guide South Carolina to a second straight women’s basketball championship this season, dipped into her collection of Eagles gear and wore a throwback white-and-green Randall Cunningham No. 12 jersey as she paced the sideline during her team’s big showdown against Louisiana State.

The matchup, between the last two unbeaten teams in women’s college hoops, played out within the hours before the Super Bowl, giving the game its latest marquee moment for a season through which several contenders are hoping to topple Staley’s juggernaut program.

Top-ranked South Carolina is searching for to pile up wins (and titles). Louisiana State is trying to join the upper echelon of the game. The Tigers, ranked No. 3 entering the sport, have been surpassing expectations behind their coach, Kim Mulkey, who joined this system in 2021 after leading Baylor to a few national championships.

On Sunday, it was South Carolina that passed the test with an 88-64 victory in Columbia, S.C., running away from L.S.U. within the second half and, perhaps, asserting a tiny bit more separation between itself and the remaining of the game.

“We don’t need to lose, and we actually don’t need to lose in our constructing,” Staley said on the ESPN broadcast after the sport. She added: “Our players are driven, they’re driven. They’re competitive. They need to win in any respect costs, and so they need to do it for one another.”

Staley and her players are piling up numbers that reflect their desire for excellence. The Gamecocks are 118-8 over the past 4 seasons, and have now won 40 straight regular-season games. They’ve won 16 straight regular-season games against opponents ranked within the Associated Press Top 25 poll — including a win over Connecticut on Feb. 5 that was a rematch of their national championship game last season. South Carolina’s last loss got here nearly a yr ago, to Kentucky within the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game.

Its game against L.S.U. featured a matchup of two big players in contention for national player of the yr honors — South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston (averaging 13.4 points and 9.9 rebounds), who’s the reigning national player of the yr, and L.S.U. forward Angel Reese (averaging 23.2 points and 15.3 rebounds).

South Carolina (25-0) had the sting in experience. 4 of its starters, including Boston, played within the national championship game last season, while L.S.U. (23-1) features 4 latest starters.

Reese picked up two early fouls and was relegated to the bench. South Carolina raced out to an 18-2 lead while sending wave after wave of attacking players into the sport.

“They jumped on us just like the defending national champions should, and it began on the tip,” Mulkey said at halftime, when L.S.U. had cut the deficit to 10.

L.S.U. got inside 5 points within the third quarter, but South Carolina pulled away on a run that was capped by a 3-pointer from guard Brea Beal, which triggered a celebration on the South Carolina bench that spilled onto the ground in the course of the break.

Kamilla Cardoso, a 6-foot-7 Brazilian, was unstoppable down low with 18 points and 13 rebounds for South Carolina. The senior guard Zia Cooke scored 17 points, and Boston, the projected No. 1 pick on this yr’s W.N.B.A. draft, had 14 points, 9 rebounds and three blocks.

Led by Cardoso and Boston, South Carolina dominated inside in scoring and rebounding.

The win keeps the Gamecocks in prime position before the ladies’s N.C.A.A. tournament. On Thursday, South Carolina was projected as the No. 1 overall seed by the N.C.A.A. Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, giving it probably the most favorable path possible.

Pat Lowry, who oversees the production of girls’s college basketball across ESPN’s networks, realized a few months ago that the South Carolina-L.S.U. game could find yourself going head-to-head with Fox’s daylong lead-up of programming for the Super Bowl. On ESPN, South Carolina-L.S.U. followed “Postseason NFL Countdown” and aired before a cornhole tournament.

“I don’t think we anticipated this being two undefeated teams when the schedule was determined,” Lowry said in an email within the week leading as much as the sport. “However the game time and network for the sport looks like a unbelievable opportunity, especially with the lead-in programming.”

She added: “I feel for girls’s basketball fans, there is huge interest on this game and really seeing how good L.S.U. is against a fantastic team. A game like that is appointment viewing for a women’s basketball fan.”

Staley, who has been making the case for the game itself while she piles up wins, appreciated the importance of the sport ahead of the tip.

“It’s super cool that we are able to highlight our conference because we’ve done some incredible things,” Staley, who has won three Olympic gold medals as a player and two N.C.A.A. championships as a coach, told reporters before the sport. “This conference prepares you for moments like this, it prepares you to win national championships, it prepares you to do loads of various things due to competition that brews every night, and it builds to this moment, so it’s cool.”

On Sunday, the day belonged to South Carolina, and, unfortunately for Staley, Kansas City relatively than Philadelphia within the Super Bowl.

“The Eagles have already won, it’s divine order. Jalen Hurts, it’s divine order,” Staley mused before her own game, after having chosen from her many options of Eagles gear, which included jerseys of the quarterback Hurts (with whom she has traded messages of mutual admiration) in addition to the previous stars Brian Dawkins and Reggie White.

She happened to be flawed about her Super Bowl prediction, but her team stayed on its roll.

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