Dawn Staley put this schedule together to give South Carolina an NCAA Tournament feel before it got to the NCAA Tournament.
With three games over the next three days, she’s giving the Gamecocks a little more than what the tournament will do.
“We just talk about taking it one play at a time, we talk about stringing two practices together,” Staley said a day before USC started the Basketball Hall of Fame Women’s Challenge against Hampton. “I think this is kind of a good mentality-builder. You’ve got to put your players in these situations so they can learn from them.”
The NCAA Tournament requires two games in three days, with each two-game segment at least five days from the next one. USC plays Hampton, Maine and St. Peter’s Sunday through Tuesday, and then heads to Springfield, Mass., next weekend to take on No. 5 Louisville.
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Three games in three days isn’t strange to USC’s veterans, since they’ve done it in each of the past two SEC Tournaments. But the Gamecocks are breaking in some new players – Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray are familiar with it, but are only one game into their return to college basketball – and this week’s prep came with a little warning.
“We haven’t really talked about it beside making jokes like, ‘Dang, we’re gonna be tired!,’” center Alaina Coates said. “Everybody’s ready to go.”
USC ran past Ohio State’s junk defense, designed to let teams get their points while the Buckeyes get back for their own bucket early on the shot clock. The Gamecocks turned the tables on them, even with Coates and A’ja Wilson not dominating, as Davis (37 points) and Gray (24) took over.
Coates had a double-double, but Wilson, the preseason All-American, was held to five points after early foul trouble. The Buckeyes were physical under the basket, and Coates and Wilson missed a few chip shots.
“We did kind of miss each other here and there,” Coates said. “We just got to get back in the swing of things. I feel like now that we’ve gotten Ohio State out of the way, we can kind of get back to what we do.”
It should be much easier for them to get opportunities. Ohio State had four players 6-foot-3 or above. USC’s next three opponents have two players at that height between them.
Even with the scoring display put on by her two off guards, Staley made it clear USC’s primary focus is to get the ball inside. It’s just nice to have other weapons when the first approach isn’t clicking.
“They know exactly what our bread and butter is,” Staley said. “The stats don’t lie – if you still calculate the stats of our post players, you’ll see where they’re shooting 70 or 80 percent. The way Kaela and Allisha scored, they didn’t take many ill-advised shots.”
Ohio State’s defense helped that, as USC was able to get out and run. Staley still wasn’t pleased with the overall defense but again, first game.
How USC handles the next three games is key toward surviving a rough stretch.
“We got stops when we needed to get stops, but to give up 80 points? That’s a lot of points,” Staley said. “We know Ohio State is the type of team where you can score a whole lot of points because they’re impatient defenders, and we took advantage of that. But if we can get a couple more stops, I think we could have gotten a handle on the game a lot sooner.”
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HAMPTON (0-3) at NO. 4 SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0)
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: SEC Network Plus
Radio: 107.5 FM
Hampton’s probable starters: G Malia Tate-DeFreitas 5-8 Sr. (14.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G Georgianna Gilbeaux 5-5 Sr. (2.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G/F Monnazjea Finney-Smith 6-1 Jr. (14.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg); F Kaylah Lupoe 6-2 Jr. (3.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg); F Jephany Brown 6-0 Jr. (6.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Bianca Cuevas-Moore 5-6 Jr. (9.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Allisha Gray 6-0 Jr. (24.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg); G Kaela Davis 6-2 Jr. (37.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 Jr. (5.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Sr. (10.0 ppg, 13.0 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina hosts Maine at 7 p.m. on Monday.