The USC Aiken women’s basketball team doesn’t have the same offensive firepower without injured forward Kayla Harris. But what hasn’t changed about the sixth-ranked Pacers is their ability to play a smothering defense using a variety of looks to confuse and confound opponents.


That was the case Thursday, when USCA delivered a dominating defensive performance in a 59-39 win over Georgia College. The 39 points was the fewest the Pacers have allowed this season and was a reinforcement of their winning formula. Even with the full complement of players, USCA was capable of posting gaudy point totals but was distinguishing itself in victory by playing tough defense. For the season, the Pacers are second in the Peach Belt Conference in points allowed (52.9) and opponents’ field-goal percentage (36.9), and only trail the top-ranked teams by the smallest of margins.


They’re going to rely on that shutdown defense down the stretch of the season, as they face only PBC East Division opponents from here on out.


The win over Georgia College put USCA (14-2, 7-2) back in sole possession of first place in the East, a half game ahead of Augusta State. When the Pacers return to action today, they’ll have the opportunity to maintain their slight foothold against a team they’ve already defeated this season. USCA welcomes Francis Marion (7-7, 2-6) to the Convocation Center, with tip-off scheduled for 5:30 p.m.


In the first meeting, the Pacers used a second-half surge to knock off the Patriots, 74-55. Today, it’s likely USCA will need a better defensive performance, one closer to the domination from Thursday, to earn a season sweep. It’s a strong possibility against a struggling Francis Marion squad.


The Patriots have lost their past two games and six of eight overall. Although the last two losses came against league powerhouses Clayton State and Montevallo, that’s a class where USCA also resides. Francis Marion will need to defy its host’s defensive strength and perform at a level higher then its season averages indicate. It only has one player – Tiara Gause – scoring in double digits this season, and she’s barely doing it with an average of 11.3 points per game. The Patriots connect on 41 percent of their field-goal attempts as a team but are allowing opponents hit better than 44 percent, dead-last in the PBC.


If USCA finds a rhythm offensively, and players like Daniela Tarailo (15.7 points per game, 44 percent shooting from 3-point range) and Brittany Hill (7.6 points per game, 6.3 assists per game) get going early, it figures to another win for the home team.


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.


Today’s Game


What: USC Aiken women’s basketball


Who: USCA (14-2, 7-2 PBC) vs. Francis Marion (7-7, 2-6)


Where: Convocation Center


When: Today, 5:30 p.m.


STAR WATCH


USCA: Mackenzie Reese, So. F. Reese has struggle slightly lately but remains one of the Pacers leading scorers (8.9) and rebounders (3.9).


FRANCIS MARION: Dee Gray, Jr. G. Gray is one of the Patriots most relied upon players and is averaging 9 points and a team-best 6.6 rebounds per game.