Exhibitions are, mostly, chances to get used to playing in real game situations, opportunities to play against somebody in a different uniform after colliding with your teammates for the past month.
In this case, it was a glimpse into the future.
Following a shellacking of North Greenville, in which No. 22 South Carolina scored 78 points in the paint, coach Dawn Staley said the plan for Friday night’s season-opener against Charleston Southern and the rest of the season won’t change. USC will pound the ball inside.
Might as well, now that the Gamecocks have the capability to do it.
“I think we have the players that have proven throughout our preseason that they can score on the block, they can defend the ball and they can actually execute down there in the paint,” Staley said on Thursday. “We want to continue to work inside-out. I think it’s only going to free up our guards to do what they do.”
It’s a different look for USC. After relying on a guard-heavy rotation since she arrived, Staley has the height and bulk to throw a new dimension at opponents.
Forward Aleighsa Welch and centers Elem Ibiam and Alaina Coates combined for 55 points against the Crusaders, a team with scarce height. The Buccaneers have a pair of 6-foot-3 post players and a 6-2 forward they can use to deter USC’s path to the basket, but the Gamecocks will still try to establish inside presence from the tip.
If that doesn’t work, USC can switch to what got it through the past two years. Guard Tiffany Mitchell is able to score from outside and in, Welch has spent the summer working on her jumper and Khadijah Sessions has said she has her lethal scoring ability always ready to be switched on.
“It’s been an emphasis from the coaches, but also, if we don’t have it, our guards are there for us to kick it back out, give them a shot,” Ibiam said. “Just to kind of open the paint for our guards. A lot of times they give it to us, they can drive or hand off, so it just kind of opens the lane for everybody.”
Whatever the strategy, Friday night is the first game of the season for which USC will see a result posted in the win or loss column. The exhibition was good to get everybody work instead of standing at practice, watching drills, but now every minute and every player is focused toward winning.
“I think they’ve been working hard,” Staley said. “A lot of stuff that we’re correcting is just being young, just trying to put them in different experiences on the court. We’re not nearly where we will be halfway through the season, but for the start of the season, for what we’ve been able to put in, have our players executed? Yes.”
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN (0-0) at NO. 22 SOUTH CAROLINA (0-0)
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia
Tickets: Available at the box office
Charleston Southern’s probable starters: G Erin Bratcher 5-9 Sr. (10.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg); G D.J. Fowler 5-8 Sr. (10.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G Kirklin Kirkpatrick 5-11 RJr. (1.6 ppg, 1.2 rpg); F Anicia Dotson 5-11 Sr. (5.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg); C Monique Maximilien 6-3 So. (1.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 So. (5.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg); G Asia Dozier 6-0 So. (2.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 So. (9.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg); F Aleighsa Welch 6-0 Jr. (12.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg); C Elem Ibiam 6-4 Jr. (5.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg)