COLUMBIA — Kinks have become problems. Rust has become rot.
Losses have a way of magnifying issues that were present in three straight wins to start the season, especially when it’s the first time top-ranked South Carolina has lost in more than a calendar year.
The soon-to-be-former-No. 1 Gamecocks were popped 54-46 by No. 8 N.C. State on Thursday, which could be described in a variety of ways. USC (3-1) had won 29 straight, the Wolfpack (3-0) are a great team, sometimes the ball bounces funny …
What shall be said is USC is as talented as it was when it stormed to the top of the women’s basketball world last season, but there’s a whole lot more missing from this group than departed seniors Ty Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan.
“We just had no flow. We were a team that I’d never seen before,” coach Dawn Staley said. “I’ve never coached a team that performed that way. It was pickup basketball.
“We’re going to have to figure some things out.”
The Gamecocks had no semblance of offensive rhythm Thursday, their go-to of dumping the ball to All-American Aliyah Boston taken away by State’s sagging zone defense. Boston, last season’s unanimous National Freshman of the Year, seemed tentative and unsure when she did get the ball in the post and scored seven of her nine points off 20-foot jump shots.
“They came in every time the ball entered the post,” Boston said. “I think we just needed to hit some outside shots or I needed, me personally, to get deeper in the post and just go up, even if the double came.”
USC controlled State’s own All-American center, Elissa Cunane, dominating her with contact and swarming arms, and yet the Wolfpack still dashed past USC for guard-produced layups.
It was fitting that the only Gamecock who seemed ready for the challenge was sophomore Laeticia Amihere, who scored 11 points with 15 rebounds. A standout recruit, Amihere was mostly a spectator of last year’s run while recovering from knee surgery. Now that she’s been cleared, she’s been fearless and productive.
“I don’t think it’s as much what they did as what we did,” Amihere said. “It’s really what we’re doing. We all know what we have to do to get better.”
The rest of the roster was confused and out of sync. Neither team shot well (each was under 30 percent) but the Gamecocks’ count-on-me players were anything but.
Zia Cooke scored 11 points on 4-of-18 shooting. Destanni Henderson, the MVP of USC’s 2-0 showing in last week’s tournament in South Dakota, scored two on 1-of-13 shooting.
It was one game, and it should be noted that USC lost this time last year and didn’t lose again the rest of the season. But that felt like a world away on Thursday.
“I think it will open our eyes to see where we need to be and how we need to play every time we step on the floor,” Staley said. “My 21 years, I’ve never felt what I felt during the game. Just uncoachable, untamable, not listening, just selfish play. Selfish play that we’re going to fix between now and Sunday. I promise you that.”
The Gamecocks are at No. 23 Iowa State on Sunday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.