Today’s Peach Belt Conference women’s basketball game between USC Aiken and Armstrong Atlantic State features two teams going in very different directions. The Pacers (18-2, 11-2) are the fifth-ranked team in the nation, have won five games in a row and are alone in first place in the East Division. The Pirates (7-12, 2-10) are in dead last in the division standings, having lost four games in a row and seven of their past eight overall.
Unfortunately for USCA, it’s not as simple as throwing their jerseys out onto the court at Alumni Arena and being guaranteed of a victory. The Pacers must continue to play the brand of basketball that’s put them in such good standing. They must continue to smother their opponent with a variety of defensive looks. The defensive schemes have limited their opponents to a PBC-low 52 points allowed per game on 36 percent shooting.
USCA must also continue to have players step up when the ball is in their hands and deliver big plays and shots as they have since preseason All-American Kayla Harris suffered a season-ending knee injury.
No player has stepped up more than Daniela Tarailo. The senior guard has led the Pacers in scoring in six of the past nine games and has exceeded 30 points twice. She’s currently sixth in the conference in scoring at 16.4 points per game, and the reigning PBC Player of the Week has scored 1,018 points in her career, surpassing the 1,000-point milestone in Wednesday’s 60-45 win over Lander.
While Tarailo has emerged as a dynamic offensive player, as dangerous shooting from beyond the 3-point arc as she is posting up or slashing to the hoop, she isn’t the only Pacer to step up her game in Harris’ absence. Porsha Martin continues to impress in the paint on both ends of the floor, and no player has hit a bigger shot than super-sub Mackenzie Reese’s buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer at Augusta State last weekend.
For the season, Martin’s averaging 7.5 points and 5 rebounds per game, while Reese has averages of 9.2 points and 3.8 boards per contest.
If they continue to play at such a strong level, it’s hard to see the Pirates pulling off the upset.
Armstrong only has two players averaging double-digit point totals this season, with junior guards Tori Klewicki-McNutt (11.5) and Bryonna Davis (10.9) leading the way. As a team, the Pirates are in the middle of the PBC pack in field goal percentage (39.5) and points per game (66.6). Those totals don’t figure to improve – or likely be matched – against the Pacers, who have limited opponents to 47 points per game during the winning streak.
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: No. 5 USCA (18-2, 11-2 PBC) vs. Armstrong Atlantic (7-12, 2-10 PBC)
WHEN: 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Alumni Arena; Savannah, Ga.
USCA: Brittany Hill, Jr. G. The Pacers’ point guard is leading the PBC in assists with 6.2 per game to accompany her average of 7.7 points per game.
ARMSTRONG ATLANTIC: Mauri Wells, Jr. F. Wells is among the Pirates team leaders with averages of 8.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.