South Carolina center Alaina Coates won’t play in the NCAA Tournament because of her ankle injury, coach Dawn Staley announced on Tuesday. The injury has ended the senior’s career.
The Gamecocks were named a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season on Monday, but Staley was disappointed that they are in the Stockton Regional, meaning their third and fourth-round games would be played in California. Now it’s a question if USC will be able to get to Stockton, with a four-time All-SEC performer sidelined.
Coates sprained the ankle in a loss at Missouri on Feb. 19 and sat out the next game, a win over Texas A&M. She returned to play 27 minutes on her Senior Day, as the Gamecocks beat Kentucky for their fourth consecutive SEC regular-season championship. Coates then sat out a first-round SEC Tournament win over Georgia and played four minutes in a tournament semifinal win over Kentucky.
During that game, Coates spun around in the post with the ball and her ankle buckled. Coates hit the floor and had to be helped off the court. She hasn’t been able to practice since.
In her absence, A’ja Wilson was named SEC Tournament MVP and freshman forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan played well. USC, tinkering with more speed in the lineup toward the end of the season, has several options to try and overcome the loss. They include starting backup point guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore alongside starter Tyasha Harris, or putting Herbert Harrigan beside Wilson with the usual three guards.
Kaela Davis, a 6-foot-2 guard who’s coming off an all-tournament selection in Greenville, could play power forward. But the Gamecocks will be deficient on the glass without Coates, the second-leading rebounder in program history.
USC is down to 10 players for the NCAA Tournament.
The Irmo native and Dutch Fork High graduate was another of the local McDonald’s All-Americans Staley signed and she leaves USC with four SEC championships, three SEC Tournament titles and at least one Final Four appearance. A double-double machine, the 6-4 Coates was always sturdy and often spectacular in the lane as opponents had no answer for her height, girth and ability to dominate games.
Coates was first-team All-SEC as a junior and senior and was named SEC Freshman and 6th Woman of the Year in 2014. She was fourth in the country this year in field-goal percentage, seventh in rebounds and 17th in double-doubles.
Coates has been mentioned as a potential top pick in the WNBA Draft.
The Gamecocks will begin the NCAA Tournament at 5 p.m. on Friday, hosting UNC Asheville.
A look at Alaina Coates’ career numbers:
Games started: 66