With a dominant 99-31 win against Alabama State at Colonial Life Arena, South Carolina women’s basketball opened its title defense Friday in strong fashion.
Granted, the result was never really in question, as Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks have not dropped a season opener since 2010 and the Hornets posted a losing record in the SWAC last season.
But despite the lack of drama about the outcome, fans and observers have now seen USC play two games and can start to make some early observations about this team.
Lindsey Spann and the rest of the starting five look really, really good
For all the talk and angst about how South Carolina would play with three new starters this season, the transition through two admittedly easy games has been ... seemingly flawless? This might change as the Gamecocks take on tougher opponents, but the current starting five of A’ja Wilson, Alexis Jennings, Doniyah Cliney, Lindsey Spann and Tyasha Harris have really seemed to click.
Jennings has relieved pressure on Wilson in the post, allowing her to expand her game beyond the restricted area (more on that later), Cliney has been a defensive menace and effective do-it-all small forward and Harris has continued to dish and gotten some good looks of her own while running in transition.
Most importantly, Lindsey Spann looks like a potential all-SEC player. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, anytime you go 10 for 14 on 3-pointers in two games, like Spann has, you are pretty darn good. This is A’ja Wilson’s team, but that means Spann is getting great looks and putting up the team’s most impressive scoring stats.
A’ja Wilson is not quite a point guard, but her game is expanding
On Friday morning, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced its preseason watchlist for the Lisa Leslie Award, a new honor created to go to the best center in women’s college hoops. A’ja Wilson was on it.
Wilson has talked a lot this offseason about changing things up and stretching the floor by being a more effective player facing the basket.
Sure enough, she did that against Alabama State, dribbling, driving and even calling a play or two, almost like a point guard. Granted, she was still a force in the paint with 10 rebounds, but Wilson was all over the floor and trying some interesting things that could give the Gamecocks an extra threat down the road.
“I think it was pretty decent, considering that this is the first year I’ve showed that versatility at all,” Wilson said of her performance. “I have been trying to get better and try to do that because I know next year, at the next level, that’s something that’s going to have to evolve in my game.”
Mikiah Herbert Harrigan might end up being South Carolina’s best player off the bench
An effective rotation player who came up big toward the end of the season after Alaina Coates went down, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan has been the star of the second unit thus far for South Carolina.
Against Alabama State, Herbert Harrigan led all scorers with 18 points, or more than the Hornets scored in either half. She also contributed six rebounds, two steals and a block. Best of all, she was extremely efficient, going 7-for-10 from the field.
After the game, Dawn Staley said senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore, who missed the contest with a sprained knee, would likely miss the Maryland game as well. That leaves Herbert Harrigan as the most experienced bench player left for USC.
Bianca Jackson may not have the highest ceiling, but she’s the most polished freshman
Imagine the nerves of playing your first college basketball game with the defending national champions on the night they unveil their title banner and celebrate their fourth straight conference championship.
Now imagine your mom is coaching your opponent, teaching them all your weaknesses and how to exploit them.
Yes, Bianca Jackson faced a situation Friday that had to be nerve-wracking, and she rose to the occasion with eight points, six rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals. As an in-between player who can either play small forward or shooting guard, Jackson seemed to take after Cliney in doing a little bit of everything well.