On Saturday, the No. 3 USC Aiken women’s basketball team had a double challenge. It was trying to recover from its first loss of the season while doing so without preseason All-American Kayla Harris, who’s out for the rest of the campaign with a torn ACL and MCL.
The Pacers (13-1, 6-1 Peach Belt Conference) met both challenges head on. They posted a 57-43 win over PBC newcomer Young Harris to shake off any bad feelings following their only loss of the season. They did without the services of Harris, who was the team’s leading scorer and rebounder.
Against the Mountain Lions, senior guard Daniela Tarailo did her best to fill those roles and scored a career-best 30 points to go along with 9 rebounds in the win. She had to carry the load offensively because no other USCA player scored in double figures, with many finishing below their season averages.
But the Pacers ultimately won for the same reason they have so often this season, because of stingy defense that uses a number of looks to stifle, confuse and shut down opponents. Young Harris, which leads the PBC by connecting on 48 percent of its shots from the field, was limited to just 35 percent (16-for-45) against the Pacers.
Defense will be what leads USCA to wins for the rest of the season. The Pacers will face another opponent tonight that they could force to struggle mightily. They’re finishing off a two-game road swing in Dahlonega, Ga., with a game against North Georgia (5-9, 3-4). Tip-off for the game to be played at Memorial Hall Gymnasium is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
While USCA is one of the premier teams in the PBC, in first place in the East Division, the Saints are struggling. They’ve lost four of their past five PBC games and are tied for fifth place in the West Division with the Young Harris squad the Pacers just defeated.
Junior forward Jaymee Carnes has been North Georgia’s top player this season, with averages of 18.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. She’s ranks second and first in the PBC in those categories, respectively. Sophomore guard Stephanie Huffman has also been a factor with 12.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
But beyond that duo, the rest of the Saints are struggling. No other individual is averaging more than six points per game, and as a team they’re only connecting on 37.9 percent of their field-goal attempts, 11th place in the PBC.
That doesn’t bode well going against a USCA squad that’s holding opponents to 36.8 field-goal percentage.
If Tarailo can get some more support on offense, the Pacers should achieve head coach Mike Brandt’s goal of sweeping the road trip, even without Harris. It will give them the positive reinforcement to continue rising above adversity, because the challenges will get greater after tonight.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.
What: USC Aiken women’s basketball
Who: USCA (13-1, 6-1 PBC) at North Georgia (5-9, 3-4 PBC)
Where: Memorial Hall Gymnasium; Dahlonega, Ga.
When: Today, 5:30 p.m.
USCA: Daniela Tarailo, Sr. G. Tarailo carried the Pacers in the win over Young Harris with a career-best 30 points and nine rebounds.
Young Harris: Jaymee Carnes, Jr. F. Carnes is essentially averaging a double-double, with 18.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game and had her sixth of the season (14 points, 11 rebounds) in Saturday’s loss to Augusta State.