She isn’t likely to play on Thursday, and there’s no telling when she’ll return. Ankle sprains are curious injuries – people heal differently, pain tolerance is handled likewise.
But fifth-ranked South Carolina isn’t using A’ja Wilson’s injury as an excuse. If the Gamecocks’ All-American forward doesn’t play, or does play and is ineffective, the message and opportunity for her teammates is clear.
Somebody has to step up. Might as well be you.
“We kind of had this situation happen before,” center Alaina Coates said. “I think she got hurt sometime in the summer or something and we had to practice without her. We know what it’s like. It’s just playing without her that’s different. If we bring the energy we have in practice into the game, we should be fine.”
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Wilson’s presence in the paint means no opponent could lock down on one of the Gamecocks’ posts. If they do, Wilson or Coates was going to be open. That’s what made the high-low combination work so well, and on the rare chance each couldn’t get an open look, there was always the option to kick out.
When Wilson is out, Coates can be concentrated on. It may be difficult to replicate her usual double-double.
Don’t think Georgia coach Joni Taylor, who brings her team to Columbia, doesn’t know that. And she’s told 6-foot-2 Mackenzie Engram and 6-3 Caliya Robinson.
Freshman Mikiah Herbert Harrigan will likely see increased minutes, perhaps sliding into Wilson’s starting role. USC’s backcourt must keep up its usual production. Allisha Gray can’t sit and wait to take over; she’ll have to do it from the tip. Kaela Davis can’t be a streaky shooter; she’ll have to make and keep making. Tyasha Harris (distribute) and Bianca Cuevas-Moore (score) have to do what they do best from the point.
Coach Dawn Staley sounded confident Wilson will be back soon. Call it a test to see how the Gamecocks respond.
“At the rate that she’s healing up, she doesn’t want to miss (Georgia), she definitely doesn’t want to miss the next game,” Staley said. “So it’s about her and how quickly she can heal up and get back out here.”
Coates, the senior, expects a more aggressive defense from Georgia, but it’s not something she hasn’t faced. At this point, everybody’s trying to stop her, so what’s a few more with her frontcourt mate out?
“I think everybody knows they need to come out with energy, especially with (Herbert Harrigan) being in the lineup. She knows that spark she brings to us coming off the bench,” Coates said. “ Everybody knows they have to play their part so we can be successful.”
Staff writer Dwayne McLemore contributed to this story.
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Who: Georgia (10-6, 2-1 SEC) at No. 5 USC (13-1, 3-0)
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM
No. 5 USC vs. Georgia
Georgia’s probable starters: G Haley Clark 5-9 Jr. (5.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg); G Simone Costa 5-10 Jr. (6.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg); G/F Pachis Roberts 5-11 Sr. (12.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg); F Mackenzie Engram 6-2 Jr. (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F Caliya Robinson 6-3 So. (15.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Ty Harris 5-10 Fr. (4.9 ppg, 1.4 rpg); G Allisha Gray 6-0 Jr. (12.7 ppg, 4.1 rpg); G Kaela Davis 6-2 Jr. (14.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg); F Mikiah Herbert Harrigan 6-2 Fr. (5.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Sr. (14.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg)
Next game: South Carolina tips off at LSU at 3 p.m. on Sunday