COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Xavier coach Kevin McGuff thinks his team needs to shoot better from the outside if it's going to improve on last season's 30 wins and trip to the Elite Eight.
The Musketeers (No. 6 ESPN/USA Today, No. 5 AP) got off to a strong start Friday night in an 84-65 win over South Carolina, the season opener for both teams.With the Gamecocks defense collapsing on Xavier's post players early, the Musketeers hit their first four 3-pointers and shot better than 50 percent from behind the arc to extend their regular-season winning streak to 15 games.McGuff stressed perimeter play during preseason practice."It should help our post players get a little more spacing and room to operate," he said.Once the outside shots began falling, Xavier's inside players started to get easy looks. Eleven of the Musketeers' 18 second-half baskets were layups.Amber Harris scored 21 points to lead the Musketeers, while Ta'Shia Phillips added 19 and Tyeasha Moss 17. Xavier shot 55.7 percent from the field and trailed only after South Carolina hit the opening bucket.Even so, McGuff thinks his team has plenty of room to grow."We certainly have a long way to go to be as good as we are capable of being," he said.The Musketeers broke the game open with a 20-2 run that put them ahead 31-12 with seven minutes to go in the first half. Xavier missed just two shots during the spurt.The Musketeers shot 55 percent in the first half to take a 45-29 lead at the break.Xavier came out even stronger in the second half, hitting eight of its first nine shots to go on a 17-5 run that put the Musketeers up 62-34 with 14 minutes left.La'Keisha Sutton led the Gamecocks with 19 points, while Ashley Bruner had 17 points and 15 rebounds, both career highs for the sophomore.Dawn Staley still has a rebuilding project at South Carolina. The coach is 24-34 with the Gamecocks and is working with a team that has no players taller than 6-foot-1 and struggles to shoot. South Carolina shot just 24-for-65 (36.9 percent) in the opener."I don't think our starting backcourt is going to shoot 1-for-18 again," she said.The Gamecocks did show some second-half hustle, holding Xavier scoreless for four minutes and knocking a 28-point deficit down to 62-44 about halfway through the half. But they couldn't get any closer.South Carolina hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2003 and hasn't beaten a team in the top five in nearly 13 years."I'm taking a lot of positives from this game. Look at rebounding," said Staley, whose Gamecocks outrebounded Xavier 40-35. "I'm proud of that against a team that smashes people."