Five questions as the South Carolina women’s basketball team holds its first official practices this week:
1. WILL THE STREAKS CONTINUE?
It’s hard to get better than 25 wins, as Dwan Staley found out last year. After notching her best SEC record at 11-5, that will be hard to top as well. The SEC got better over the offseason. The non-conference schedule sets up well but the SEC schedule, particularly the final five games, is a gauntlet. But at least one streak — NCAA tournament appearances — should continue.
2. WHO RUNS THE POINT?
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Following the departure of SEC Defensive Player of the Year Ieasia Walker, it will be up to Khadijah Sessions, although Tiffany Davis could compete with her. Sessions got a year’s worth of experience behind Walker, and has learned how to balance her take-over scoring abilities with directing the offense.
3. TIME FOR THE ELLE SHOW TO DEBUT?
Elem “Elle” Ibiam has had two marvelous postseasons in a row, but has been trying to match her regular-season performance with those. With Ashley Bruner gone, USC needs a capable post player, and while Alaina Coates brings several kudos, she’s also a freshman. Ibiam can be the rock on the block. She just has to do it every night.
4. IS YOUTH CONCERNING?
Not a bit. The Gamecocks knew they had a youth-stocked team last year, and played the nine players they had (after Davis tore her ACL early in the year) extensively. Tiffany Mitchell grew up quickly, Aleighsa Welch prepared to take over the leadership role and Sessions prepped for three years at the point. All it means is that USC is primed to make a run.
5. CAN USC PLAY “BIG-GIRL” BASKETBALL?
The constant of Staley’s tenure is that the teams have been guard-dominated. They either didn’t have, or didn’t have for long, the tall players in the middle that often meant the difference between good and elite. With Coates on board, and Ibiam hoping to channel her postseason success, USC can show different looks this year. The Gamecocks can go three-guard (and working in Olivia Gaines will trigger that), but they can also go with three bigs across the lane.
USC women’s hoops at a glance
What’s happened with coach Dawn Staley’s program since it ended the 2012-13 season:
Sr. F Ashley Bruner (10.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg); Sr. G Ieasia Walker (9.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Sr. G Sancheon White (4.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Jr. F Aleighsa Welch (12.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg); So. G Tiffany Mitchell (9.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg); So. G Khadijah Sessions (5.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg); Jr. F Elem Ibiam (5.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg); RFr. G Tiffany Davis (4.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg)*; RSo. G Tina Roy (DNP)*; So. G Asia Dozier (2.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg); Sr. C Wilka Montout (2.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg)
*Note: Davis is recovered from an ACL tear that limited her to the first three games of last year. Roy is recovered from an ACL tear that she suffered before last season
Fr. G India Farmer (6-0); Jr. G Olivia Gaines (5-7); Jr. G LeAnna Morrison (5-5); Fr. C Alaina Coates (6-4)
March 26: Kansas beats USC 75-69 in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Boulder, Colo., to end the Gamecocks’ season at 25-8, 11-5 SEC. Coach Dawn Staley continued her streak of improving her SEC win total every year that she’s been at USC, and her streak of improving her overall win total in every year stopped after the Gamecocks matched the 25-win total of 2011-12. Still, USC has completed a two-year run of 50 wins and two NCAA tournament berths, including a trip to the Sweet 16.
March 29: USC athletics director Ray Tanner confirms that Ohio State has approached Staley to talk about its coaching vacancy.
March 31: Following an Easter weekend meeting with Tanner, Staley withdraws her name from consideration at Ohio State.
April 8: Staley is voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
April 17: Staley’s contract is extended through the 2018-19 season.
May 15: National Junior College Player of the Year Gaines signs with the Gamecocks. Gaines joins Coates as the two scholarship newcomers to the team.
July 9: USC announces that walk-ons Farmer and Morrison will join the roster for this season.
Sept. 8: Staley is enshrined into the Naismith, with the complete USC support staff in attendance.