With two of the most experienced members of its backcourt sidelined with injury, No. 5 South Carolina needs some help and depth at the guard position — and the Gamecocks could have it soon enough.
Junior Te’a Cooper transferred to USC from Tennessee this past offseason, and coach Dawn Staley said at SEC media day that the program would request a waiver to allow Cooper to bypass NCAA rules that require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season and play immediately. Almost two weeks later, just as the season was about to start, Staley reversed course, saying the team would apply for the waiver in December.
“We’re going to give it a semester for her to get acclimated, and hopefully, half a year of residence will favor us come December,” Staley said of the decision at the time.
This past Friday, Staley offered an updated timeline on that process, saying Cooper was waiting on two final grades from this fall semester before the waiver would be submitted.
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“We need two classes. We need her to complete two classes this semester. ... Once they’re in, that’s when we can submit the waiver,” Staley said.
South Carolina’s classes end this Friday, with the last of final exams finishing on Dec. 18. Staley had previously said at SEC media day that she thought the NCAA would take a week to reach a decision on the waiver once it was submitted.
If that timeline holds, Cooper could make her South Carolina debut on Dec. 21 against Temple or on Dec. 31 when the Gamecocks open SEC play against Texas A&M. If the process is delayed until the start of USC’s spring semester, Cooper would miss key matchups against SEC rivals Missouri and Tennessee.
Cooper is just one of three guards currently unavailable to the Gamecocks — senior Bianca Cuevas-Moore has yet to play this regular season with a sprained knee, and redshirt senior Lindsey Spann went down the same injury before the team’s game against Western Carolina this past Thursday. As a result, USC has just four guards in its rotation at the moment.
In the two games South Carolina has played without Cuevas-Moore and Spann, the Gamecocks have shot 20.8 percent from 3 and scored 146 of their 173 points in the paint or at the free-throw line.
This Monday, Staley did not give a definitive timeline for Spann and Cuevas-Moore’s return, but did say they would be out for Tuesday’s game against College of Charleston. She did say Cuevas-Moore has been progressing well, however, and said she could return after the team’s winter break for final exams, around the same time Cooper could become eligible as well.
South Carolina faces College of Charleston this Tuesday at 7 p.m. before a nearly two-week break.