The South Carolina Lady Gamecocks came into this season with the number one recruiting class in the country showing up on campus. The talent was stacking up in Columbia, but it was unclear how well or quickly the team could gel. As this season approaches the halfway point of conference play, Coach Dawn Staley has her squad sitting at number one in the country with a 20-1 record. The Lady Gamecocks are 8-0 to start SEC play, after a dominant win over Ole Miss in which they led 30-2 at halftime.
South Carolina Lady Gamecocks Dominating SEC Play
This team had a high profile group of freshmen come in to bolster the roster, but they do not have to carry the team on their own. Staley had a pair of veterans and some experienced underclassmen to help guide the crop of new young talent. It is a testament to her that she has gotten this group to come together so quickly. The blend of senior leadership and talented youth has the Lady Gamecocks looking like one of the favorites to reach the Final Four and possibly win their second National Championship in the past four years.
Point of No Concern
One of the biggest issues with a young team is having a presence on the floor that can lead, guide, and be an extension of the coach. Coach Staley has the luxury of a four-year starter at point guard to do just that. Tyasha Harris was starting at the point as a freshman when the Lady Gamecocks won the title in 2017. This past week she broke the school’s record for assists in a career. Her knowledge, instincts, and knack for making big plays have been on full display this season.
Playing point guard for a coach who also played the position can be tough. When that coach is one of the best female basketball players in history, that pressure is even greater. Staley is tough on her floor general, and Harris has been masterful as a senior. She is averaging 12 points and five assists a night and hit the game-winner against Mississippi State in their top ten showdowns last week. She helped lead this team to a national title as a freshman, now she’s looking to get back to the top as a senior.
The Lady Gamecocks have been overwhelming most of their opponents with depth and talent. This team scores 83.8 points a night and is winning by an average of 26 points a game. The balance of their scoring is what makes them so hard to defend. There are multiple players that can lead this team on the offensive end each night, with four ladies averaging double figures. Sophomores Destanni Henderson and Victoria Saxton can also provide a scoring boost off the bench. Six different players have led this team in scoring during the season. Staley has a team that can attack opponents in multiple ways, with various players being capable of carrying the load. That is why they have only been held under 75 points five times this season.
All the talk in the offseason was about the Lady Gamecocks number one recruiting class. Twenty games into the season and the youngsters haven’t disappointed. It started in the season opener when guard Zia Cooke led the team in scoring, and center Aliyah Boston recorded a triple-double. Those two have been fixtures in the starting line-up along with guard Brea Beal. Boston leads the team in points, rebounds, and blocks. She is following in a long line of dominant post players for Coach Staley. Much like Alaina Coates and Aja Wilson before her, the 6’5” freshman has made an impact since day one. She had 25 rebounds in a victory over a ranked Arkansas team early in SEC play.
Cooke has shown flashes of elite scoring ability. She has the highest single-game total with 27 points in a win over Dayton. That was one of three 20 point games for the freshman wing. She is excellent at slashing to the basket with or without the ball and is shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc. Beal hasn’t hit a scoring groove yet in garnet and black, but she is still contributing. She is averaging six points, six boards, and a steal per contest. All three-star freshmen have shown their fearlessness. They are each tied for the team lead in free throws attempted, showing their aggressive mindset on offense.
This team has all the makings of a championship unit; good guard play, size, depth, and enough experience to keep focused. The one player that can put this team over the top is Mikiah Herbert-Harrigan. She was inconsistent as a junior but has been locked in this season. The senior forward has scored in double figures in all but three contests. She has a versatile offensive skill set, with the ability to score in the post and a reliable mid-range jumper. Herbert-Harrigan can also impact the game on the other end, as she is closing in on 200 career blocks. Her ability to create mismatches for opponents will make her vital to the Lady Gamecocks success as the grind of SEC play continues.
Staley’s team has handled the burden of being number one quite well so far. They have been dominant in most of their conference games, but the road gets a lot rougher as February begins. They have three consecutive contests with ranked opponents to start the month. This includes a home date with perennial power UConn. This team’s mettle will be tested in the next few weeks, but so far, the South Carolina Lady Gamecocks have proven to be up to the challenge.
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