South Carolina’s women’s basketball team proved it could sustain success, matching the 25-win season of two years ago last year.
Now it must try to match or best it one more time, without one of the crucial elements of the past two years.
USC has been phenomenally successful the past two years on the strength of its defense, and is trying to keep that same presence despite the loss of Ieasia Walker.
Walker was the point guard and the catalyst of a squad that has led the SEC the past two years in scoring defense. She earned the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award last season, and coach Dawn Staley is now tasked with trying to find a replacement.
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She’s savvy enough to know that it won’t come from one person right away, and maybe not ever. Walker’s void might be filled by a group.
“I think Ieasia made a point to want to be the quarterback of our offense and defense,” Staley said. “That’s pretty hard shoes to fill for us. It’s hard for us to ask any one of our players, especially how young we are, they really don’t understand the whole lay of the land of the defense.”
USC will be bigger, which will help with rebounding, and Staley has several guards who can work the ball up the floor. They’re all quick enough to handle the steal and fast break as well — they just have to start doing it.
Khadijah Sessions is the likely successor at the point, but is receiving competition from Tiffany Davis. Davis’ season was cut short by a knee injury last year, but she’s fully recovered.
“Defensively, I try to make that my job,” Davis said on Thursday. “Defensive stopper. It will take a lot of work, but if you put your mind to it, I feel like we won’t have to use the whole team to replace one person.”
Staley hinted that she is preparing for a different game this season. Officiating changes will be announced next week at SEC Media Days. That’s another hurdle to overcome before the season begins.
“I’m quite sure the game is going to be called differently,” Staley said. “We have to make adjustments, and we have made adjustments to how we’re going to play when the dust settles.”