It wasn’t going to be this easy throughout the season. Coach Dawn Staley knew it, saying that while her team was blowing out opponents, she was cautious about it still nursing a hangover from a season-opening 70-point rout of Charleston Southern.
It came around earlier in the week, when the No. 10 Gamecocks suffered their first loss of the season to North Carolina, and lost point guard Khadijah Sessions to an ankle injury. Sessions should return, but the Gamecocks don’t know when — the only definite was that she was going to miss Friday’s game hosting Winthrop and Sunday’s game hosting S.C. State.
That gave Staley a chance to see what kind of moxie her team has. As undesirable as it might have been to head into any game without her starting point guard, it had to be done.
The first test was closer than Staley might have liked, but the Gamecocks (10-1) won.
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“The decision to put Tiffany Davis in the starting lineup was to keep everybody in their natural positions, and we probably should have subbed her a little bit early, because she got fatigued right before she had back-to-back turnovers in the first half,” Staley said after Friday’s 69-61 win against Winthrop. “We have to gauge it as coaches as well, because that’s our first time having her out there. She did her job. We’ll probably look at putting her back in the lineup.”
Davis did enough, playing 26 minutes and directing the offense. She did have six turnovers, but considering it was the most extensive action of her career, it wasn’t a deal-breaker. She should be back at the point today when the Bulldogs (1-7) visit.
“As the game went on, I felt myself calm down and I felt myself run the team and be organized,” Davis said. “We haven’t really talked much about (the next game). We’ll get to it tomorrow when practice comes.”
A game against a strong Winthrop team was a big test, but Davis and the Gamecocks escaped. Tiffany Mitchell was around to aid her teammate with 20 points, and bigs Aleigsa Welch and Elem Ibiam scored a combined 26 points. Davis scored three, but she wasn’t asked to score — she just needed to play as well as she could in directing traffic and playing defense.
Until Sessions returns, Davis seems to be the choice to keep the shakeup at a minimum.
“Tiff and a couple of our other starters have played a lot of minutes over the last couple of games, so part of it was a little mental fatigue, a little physical fatigue, but I’d rather coach a player that’s a dog, that’s going to get after it on both sides of the ball,” Staley said. “She gets a couple more games under her belt, I think it’s only going to make us a more valuable team, make her more valuable to our team once Khadijah gets back.”