For more than two months to start the season, the USC Aiken women’s basketball team ran roughshod over its opponents. The Pacers were ranked as high as third in the nation and a legitimate contender for a championship.
In the past week, the outlook has changed dramatically. USCA has lost two games as well as preseason All-American Kayla Harris for the rest of the season as the junior forward tore her ACL and MCL. It’s fair to say that Harris’ absence played a role in the losses to Clayton State – where she hurt her knee and missed the pivotal final minutes – and most recently to North Georgia, a 57-50 defeat on Monday. It’s also fair that the Pacers must find a way to move on without Harris and won’t use her absence as a crutch.
Now ranked No. 6, USCA (13-2, 6-2 Peach Belt Conference) returns to action tonight when it will play its first game at the Convocation Center since the Clayton State loss. Tip-off for the game against Georgia College (9-6, 5-3) is set for 5:30 p.m.
Because of the losses, sandwiched around a win at Young Harris, the Pacers are tied with Augusta State for first place in the PBC East Division. The Jaguars are playing a non-league game against Paine College tonight, so the outcome of USCA’s game will determine who’s alone in first place.
The Bobcats are fighting for position near the top of the PBC West Division standings, where they’re currently tied for second in the loss column with Montevallo. Both teams are well behind Clayton State, which remains undefeated and moved into the Pacers’ old ranking of third in the nation in the latest poll.
The difference between winning and losing tonight’s contest could come down to how well USCA performs on offense. Prior to the loss to Clayton State, the Pacers were averaging nearly 73 points per game. In the three games since, the production has fallen off precipitously, as they’ve only averaged 52 points per game and struggled to shoot 29.7 percent from the field. If it weren’t for a career-high 30-point outing from senior guard Daniela Tarailo against Young Harris, USCA very well could be winless in its past three games.
Regardless of who’s in the lineup, the Pacers need to be more efficient with the ball if they have any chance of maintaining their lofty goals. They also need to do a better job on the glass, where they had 15 fewer rebounds than North Georgia.
The good news for USCA is Georgia College isn’t a particularly strong rebounding team. The Bobcats average slightly less than a rebound more than their opponents this season, and are led by 5-foot-7 Thresia Elskamp, who’s pulling down 5.7 boards per game. Statistically, Georgia College isn’t very flashy, and Shanteona Keys is the only player averaging more than 10 points per game. Keys is leading the Bobcats with 16.1 points per game, placing her among the PBC’s top 10 scorers. Enisha Donley is just a tick less than 10 points per game, but is posting more than 11 against PBC opponents.
The Bobcats seem to be a steady but unspectacular team. USCA would do itself a favor by getting off to a good start, energizing the home crowd and avoid having to scramble down the stretch.
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 (13-2, 6-2 PBC) vs. Georgia College (9-6, 5-3 PBC)
Where: Convocation Center
When: Today, 5:30 p.m.
USCA: Brittany Hill, Jr. G. Hill leads the PBC with more than 6 assists per game, but the Pacers could get a boost if she were to increase her scoring beyond the 7-plus points she’s currently averaging.
Georgia College: Shanteona Keys, So. G. Keys is seventh in the PBC in scoring and does a good amount of damage from 3-point territory, where she’s hitting 40 percent of her attempts.