It was a chance to play somebody different, not a showcase for a future highlight film.
It turned into one anyway.
Second-ranked South Carolina blew off Coker’s doors in a 100-25 exhibition drubbing on Sunday, unveiling its prized freshman class and receiving the veteran contributions that have made it formidable the past three seasons. With one advantage before the ball was tipped – Coker had one player at six-foot or above, while USC has seven (including three at 6-foot-4 and one at 6-5) – the Gamecocks unleashed the others once A’ja Wilson tipped the opening ball to Khadijah Sessions.
Dawn Staley sought a starting point for a season-long question – which five-player groups work the best – and she got to see several options after all 14 players got on the floor. But even a 75-point win, where three players finished in double figures and the defense held Coker to 12.3 percent shooting, didn’t please her.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “We’re constantly telling our team that it’s impossible to play as many players as we did tonight. We talk to them about losing the innocence of preseason.”
Staley started Wilson, the No. 1 recruit in the country, and Wilson didn’t disappoint, posting a double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds). She also blocked three shots and led the Gamecocks’ defensive press, her 6-5 frame enveloping Coker’s guards.
“I was very nervous. I was excited and nervous at the same time,” Wilson said. “It was a long, long road to get me defensively ready for that. I felt comfortable up there because we have done it so much in practice.”
Staley praised the rookie’s poise and game as her versatility playing the perimeter and the post gave USC another dimension on offense. With the height advantage, Wilson and the Gamecocks rolled to a 66-8 edge in points in the paint, out-rebounded Coker 55-26 and forced 17 turnovers.
USC also was generous with the ball, dishing out 26 assists. Alaina Coates had 16 points with seven rebounds and four blocks, Elem Ibiam had 12 point and every player except one scored.
With an easy non-conference slate early on, Staley is anxious to see how her team handles playing time. All players are used to playing extensive minutes in their previous stops, and once the opponents get tougher, Staley will have tough decisions to make regarding the rotation.
It’s why, she explained, she’s been so free about discussing USC’s national championship aspirations.
“We knew expectations would be high,” Staley said. “There isn’t anything higher than winning a national championship. It also takes the focus off, hopefully, the minutes being distributed.”
Coates and Wilson each spoke of wanting to get the title, although they knew many games won’t be as easy as Sunday’s. “We were ready for the season to start, since last year when it ended,” Coates said. “We’re trying to get this Final Four, national championship.”
Staley hopes the chemistry stays. The talent is great, but she knows the Gamecocks will need something else to make a deep run in March.
“Obviously, we got a deep basketball team. We feel comfortable putting 1-12 on the floor,” Staley said. “We just got to find the right combination.”