There were times when Asia Dozier wondered what she was doing here.
The talent was there. It was Dozier, not more heralded teammate Xylina McDaniel, who was named Gatorade South Carolina Player of the Year and South Carolina Miss Basketball as a senior at Spring Valley High. Having a father and an uncle who each played at South Carolina strengthened the argument.
The effort was there. Dozier played hard every second she was on the court, although as the year progressed, her minutes dwindled from 20 to 6 to 4 to 3.
The mentality was not there.
And it was getting dangerously close to not returning.
“It wasn’t easy,” the Gamecocks’ sophomore guard said in the preseason. “It played a big part, not being able to see it go in. It made me lose my confidence and my focus.”
Dozier was mostly the outside shooter during last year’s 25-win campaign, asked to pop the 3-pointer when the Gamecocks needed it. The problem was that the 3-pointers weren’t going in.
Ninety-one of Dozier’s 134 field-goal attempts were from the 3-point line, but 16 went in (17.6 percent). On the rare occasions when she would try to shake herself out of the rut and drive the lane, it mostly didn’t work — Dozier shot 28-of-134 from the field (20.9) and ended the season averaging 2.7 points per game.
Dozier struggled to adjust to the speed and defense of the college game and couldn’t find a way to break out of the slump. Every game offered a fresh start, every shot attempt did the same, but if the shot missed, Dozier felt the doubt creep back in.
“The first thing was building my confidence,” she said. “In order to do that, I had to see the ball go through the net.”
She saw plenty of that over the summer, as she got in the gym and lifted shot after shot. Not having the crowd or the pressure helped, as did the coaches’ confidence in her. Dawn Staley, who knew exactly what she was getting when she signed Dozier, told her that she would play a big part for the 2013-14 Gamecocks, even though she knew that if Dozier began repeating her 2012-13 performance, she might have to look at other options.
With each side knowing that scenario, Dozier started the season-opener. Even though she scored only four points, each saw what they wanted to see.
Dozier was doing everything else. She had five assists and three rebounds. She stole two balls and blocked a shot. She didn’t attempt a 3-pointer but swished both her free throws (Dozier had made 11-of-24 as a freshman). She played 17 minutes, but in a 70-point rout of Charleston Southern, it’s not like she was heavily needed.
That was Asia Dozier. Freshman year was a bad memory, nothing more.
“Me and my uncle (Terry Dozier) were just talking about that after the game,” Dozier said. “When I didn’t score in the last Kentucky game, he was like, ‘Seeing you out on the court even without you scoring made my night.’ Just to hear that from him and from the coaches, telling me the other things I bring, keeping the other players calm and getting us into sets and being another set of eyes on the court … I’m just going to keep doing that.”
Through 17 games, Dozier has started 16 and is shooting 37.9 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from the 3-point line. She’s averaging 7.4 points, has 44 assists, 12 steals and three blocks.
“I think, for the most part, she’s been our X-factor,” Staley said. “She goes about her business pretty quietly, but she’s one that knows the game plan. I think she’s been that player that has been just solid throughout.”
Heading into a matchup with No. 25 Texas A&M Thursday night, Dozier should continue to start even though the Aggies will be the most formidable team, height-wise, that USC has faced. She brings a veteran presence, and Staley recognizes that.
For Dozier, the struggles of her freshman year are staying in the past.
“My teammates, my coaches have a lot more confidence in me this season, because I’m showing them what I’m capable of doing,” Dozier said. “Getting the ball into the post — I try to be one of the most efficient post passers that we have. If I’m not getting the points, I’m trying to get the assists. Rebounding, being a defensive stopper. Just bringing everything I can to the table.”