South Carolina women’s basketball returns to the floor of Colonial Life Arena on Friday to host its lone exhibition of the 2017-2018 preseason, facing Coker.
But who exactly will take the court for the Gamecocks, and when, is unclear. Coming off the first national championship in program history, USC must replace three starters and nearly half of its offensive production from last season, and head coach Dawn Staley has yet to tip her hand on who will fill those roles.
That may be because she honestly doesn’t yet know: South Carolina is welcoming in three freshman and a graduate transfer, and redshirt junior forward Alexis Jennings will get to play after sitting out last season as an undergraduate transfer. In other words, there are a lot of talented new faces that need to be evaluated.
Pretty much the only guaranteed starters for the Gamecocks in the early going will be senior forward A’ja Wilson and sophomore point guard Tyasha Harris.
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Besides those two established players, Staley could go big with Jennings, freshman forward Lele Grissett, freshman forward LaDazhia Williams, sophomore forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan and junior wing Doniyah Cliney, or small with redshirt senior guard Lindsey Spann, senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore and freshman guard Bianca Jackson. In between, there are all sorts of combinations Staley will likely trot out Friday in an attempt to see what flows the best.
South Carolina fans will also see long stretches of game without Wilson, as Staley will rest her star and attempt to figure out how her team will play without her. At SEC media day two weeks ago, Staley said she has started taking Wilson out of some preseason drills to simulate how opposing defenses will key on the All-American and force her teammates to produce on their own.
The outcome of the game itself is hardly in doubt — Coker, a Division II squad from Hartsville, went 6-21 last season, and South Carolina has won its past five exhibitions by an average score of 99-38.
However, the contest will mark a reunion of sorts for Coker coach Shannon Johnson, a former South Carolina great and Olympic teammate of Staley in 2004 who took over the Cobras in 2015.
“She’s very funny. Incredibly funny. Infectious smile and just great to be around,” Staley said of Johnson on the “Dishin’ and Swishin’” podcast earlier this week.
Who: USC women vs. Coker in an exhibition game
When: 7 p.m., Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena