Cannot replace Alaina Coates. Cannot.
Dawn Staley made that clear to her team when it was revealed South Carolina’s All-American center is done for the season, while giving the Gamecocks two choices. Use it as an excuse, or take advantage of what they still have to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
The answer was always going to be B, and the Gamecocks were told how to start doing it. Everybody had to do what they could do to the very best of their ability, from freshman to senior.
Freshman Ty Harris understood.
“They told me, ‘You know what you’re doing. You know all the information, so just take turns and say what needs to be done,’ ” the Gamecocks’ point guard said. “They have confidence in me, so I just have to go do it.”
She was handed a mountain of responsibility before conference play, Staley inserting her into the starting lineup and telling her it was her team. A freshman, having to call out, recognize and distribute everything USC was doing on offense, with two All-Americans and two junior guards around her, was in charge.
Harris didn’t gulp or beg for the bench. She took the spot, discarded any thought of easing into it and became an SEC All-Freshman selection for the regular-season and tournament champions.
As USC heads into the biggest part of the season, the Gamecocks are down a dominant player but are far from destitute. Yet, mindful of Staley’s words on how everybody must step up to fill Coates’ void, they know they’ll get nowhere without a steady hand guiding them on every trip up and down the floor.
The point guard’s duty.
“She likes to blend a little bit. And we don’t like to blend,” Staley said. “If you’re not an average player, don’t be average, don’t blend. You want to be the best that you can be, you do that all the time.”
Staley previously mentioned how she needs Harris to jump on an upperclassman’s case if they’re not doing what they need to do. She can’t be passive when there’s a mistake, because now every mistake is magnified.
That’s taken some getting-used-to, but Harris won’t be shy about telling A’ja Wilson or Allisha Gray or Kaela Davis to get a little more open on that kick-out pass, to crash the boards a bit harder.
“As long as I’m playing my game, we’re all flowing good together, I feel like we’ve got a great chance,” she said.
Harris’ role as a scorer might increase, something she’s comfortable doing but would rather direct. Her points might depend on the game – Wilson will always be Wilson, but if her two guards are finding it difficult to get their usual buckets, USC has to replace them someway.
It’s a lot to heap on a freshman, but that’s why Staley signed her. Like all her point guards, Staley tries to find what she was as a player inside each of them. Not many, if any, could ever be what Staley was.
But they can surely try.
“She knows what her weaknesses are, she knows the weaknesses of our team, and she plays off of those things,” Staley said. “But I think when she’s hearing the doubters, that’s when she takes her game to another level.
“I know (Maryland coach) Brenda Frese talked about her freshman point guard, but I wouldn’t want any other point guard running our basketball team but Ty Harris.”
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NCAA Women’s Tournament
Who: No. 16 UNC Asheville (19-14) at No. 1 South Carolina (27-4)
When: 5 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Other game in Columbia: No. 8 Arizona State (19-12) vs. No. 9 Michigan State (21-11), 7:30 p.m. Friday