Nobody forgot how to coach and nobody forgot how to play. South Carolina lost, that’s all, and while it was tremendously disappointing to do so and slip out of control for the SEC regular-season championship, Dawn Staley knows it’s all part of the process.
She was here when the Gamecocks were out of contention for the title by midseason. She pointed out that on this team, there are only a few who know what being in a title hunt means. And it’s not like USC is scrapping to get anywhere – the Gamecocks are going to be in contention for a much bigger prize in a few weeks.
Losing’s not fun, but USC is prepared to prevent further losing.
“I’m not frettin’ a loss,” Staley said Wednesday. “We welcome the challenge of finishing our year strong. And you never know.”
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The Gamecocks won’t have time to scoreboard-watch on Thursday, since they’ll have their hands full at Texas A&M. Reed Arena is always a tough place to win and the Aggies are playing their best basketball.
USC is still alive for the title, but it will need some help. First-place Mississippi State plays Thursday at Kentucky and a win gives the Bulldogs the championship. For the Gamecocks to win it, they have to win their next two games and see what MSU does. If MSU wins its next two (the Bulldogs finish by hosting Tennessee), the Bulldogs are undisputed champs. MSU wins one of two and USC wins out, the two teams tie, both are considered champs but USC gets the No. 1 seed in the SEC tournament.
And it is still possible – MSU loses two, USC wins two, title number four comes home to roost.
So Thursday is about getting back to what USC does best. The Gamecocks want to add scoring in transition and being better rebounders to targeting the bigs and strong point guard play. The shooting guards’ struggles can be solved if a few shots go down – keeping turnovers to a minimum would also benefit.
The team’s mentality, Staley said, is fine. The Gamecocks are still in great position.
Just not quite as great as they’d prefer.
“We’re fine. We’ve got to take the good with the bad, and sometimes the bad is losing one here or there,” Staley said. “Not in control of our own destiny at this point when it comes to the regular-season championship, but just got to continue on our path of getting better, playing the perfect game and despite our loss, we’re still playing well.”
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Who: No. 7 USC (22-4, 12-2 SEC) at Texas A&M (19-8, 9-5)
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 107.5 FM
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Ty Harris 5-10 Fr. (5.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg); G Allisha Gray 6-0 Jr. (12.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg); G Kaela Davis 6-2 Jr. (11.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 Jr. (16.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Sr. (13.4 ppg, 11.2 rpg)
Texas A&M’s probable starters: G Curtyce Knox 5-7 Sr. (10.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg); G Danni Williams 5-10 So. (17.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg); F Anriel Howard 5-11 So. (10.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg); F Taylor Cooper 5-11 Sr. (6.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg); C Khaalia Hillsman 6-5 Jr. (16.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg)