Elem Ibiam is having the junior season that coach Dawn Staley thought she would have.
Ibiam, having had two consecutive terrific postseasons, was expected to blossom into a force this season. Having freshman Alaina Coates behind her and, sometimes, beside her has helped, but Ibiam is still the starter and has raised her profile to a double-figure scorer, as well as one of the top defenders in the league.
“We take a lot of pride in it,” Ibiam said after No. 6 South Carolina’s win against Ole Miss last week. “The coaches really emphasize getting the ball inside, and for us to be able to execute day-in and day-out, it’s really a big emphasis for us. It’s a really good feeling to know that we’re in there.”
She gets another test Thursday night, as she leads the first-place Gamecocks into Starkville, Miss. Waiting on Ibiam there is Bulldogs center Martha Alwal, also a strong presence in the lane.
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Alwal has been a force since she enrolled. Usually in the middle of four guards, Alwal is the top scoring threat for MSU.
It has worked well. The Bulldogs became the latest SEC team to add to Georgia’s misery last week and want to knock off a top-10 team and give their postseason chances a boost.
Ibiam will be the first player charged with stopping it. She is going to try to shut Alwal down as much as possible. If Ibiam isn’t producing offensively, USC will still have to try and work its inside game and get the same guard play it has all season.
No one said that winning an SEC championship would be easy.