When USC women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley challenged Sancheon White before the season, White didn’t think too much of it. But it was the senior guard’s attention to detail that turned her into a key contributor for the Gamecocks.
In a preseason meeting, Staley told White she wanted her to be the team’s primary defensive presence, a role valuable to the fourth-ranked scoring defense in the nation. As USC (24-7) prepares for the NCAA tournament first round in Boulder, Colo., against South Dakota State (25-7) on Saturday, Staley said it’s become automatic that White will guard the opposing team’s best offensive player.
“I don’t think I realized how important it was. But as the season kept going, I’ve now started to realize that, by shutting down the best player on the team we’re playing, it’s really helping us win games,” White said. “That’s when I really started to think about it and take it more seriously.”
Staley said White wasn’t thinking enough in her first season at USC last year, having transferred after two years at Central Arizona College. She’s gone from a contributor off the bench in 2012 to a starter this season.
“Last year, I thought she just played and let the game come to her,” Staley said. “This year, I think she’s opened herself up to learning more besides on-ball defense because you don’t have to think in that position.”
After Staley met with White before this season, she watched her transform from being a talented on-ball defender to the dangerous, detail-oriented one she is now.
“I was like, ‘All right,’ ” White said of her meeting with Staley. “That was really it. I didn’t question it. I’m the type of person where if you give me something to focus on, I’ll do it. And I might forget about other stuff during the game because I’ll just be focusing on defense.”
White’s response to Staley in their meeting is typical of the laidback demeanor that has helped her adopt a selfless attitude. Teammates call her “cavewoman” because she never leaves her room.
“She can stay in her role,” Staley said. “A lot of people want to do more and want bigger roles, but Sancheon knows how effective her role is for us, so she really buys into accepting and staying in her role.”
White isn’t laidback when studying her defensive assignment. In watching film on an opposing team’s best offensive player, a series of questions runs through White’s head.
How does the player get transition points? Does she go to the right side more than the left side? Can she shoot with hands in her face? Does she like driving the baseline?
In the Gamecocks’ upset of then-No. 5 Kentucky, White guarded two-time SEC Player of the Year A’dia Mathies, holding her to 12 points.
“With her defense, when’s she’s on, she’s on,” senior forward Ashley Bruner said. “That defense is crazy. That’s definitely what she brings.”
Does it take White hours of studying to be ready for a game? Hardly. She said it takes her about 15 minutes, though she’ll sometimes find herself thinking about it in the middle of class. It’s hard for her to focus on much else.
“I’ve got to process it and I’ve got to think about it,” White said. “You can’t just be watching film just to watch. You’ve got to pay attention.”