There was no pouting or bellyaching. A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates had been called out by name before and after the Clemson game by coach Dawn Staley, and the two knew better than to defy her.
Especially when each agreed with Staley – they weren’t good against the Tigers, and that can’t happen again if No. 2 South Carolina is going to achieve its dream of a national title.
“It was just one of those nights, and it just so happened to be all four of us. We really just kind of turned the page on it,” Wilson said Friday, before the USC women’s basketball team departed for a four-game road trip over 10 days in Hawaii and California. “We know we’ve got to learn from that game.”
On one hand, it’s good that Staley could be disgusted with the showing in a 26-point win. On the other, the most vital part of the Gamecocks’ team played very badly on the road against an outclassed team. Can’t show up at Clemson, how will they fare on the road against a Top 25 team – like, say, No. 18 Arizona State in Hawaii in six days?
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About to play at UCLA, an unranked but physical team, on Sunday, Staley didn’t want to see any letdown. At least from practice, she hasn’t.
“They responded in a way that makes us feel much better as a coaching staff that we won’t have those kinds of nights anymore,” Staley said. “When they don’t bring it every night, they make our team average. And I don’t think we’re an average basketball team.”
When Wilson and Coates are controlling the paint, it’s the perfect opening salvo from the arsenal of Gamecock weapons. The two towers score and put the opposing forwards in foul trouble. When defenses collapse, the two can kick to a Tina Roy or Tiffany Mitchell waiting for a 3-pointer. Then the fresh wave of prep All-Americans and vets from a Final Four team rolls in.
The ball was worked inside against Clemson, which had post players giving up two inches to Coates and Wilson, yet the two couldn’t impact. Shots missed, rebounds fell into the Tigers’ paws and Staley was slow-burning on the sideline.
She sounded off about it afterward and the two, plus Sarah Imovbioh and Jatarie White, had the night to think about it. They came to practice the next day eager to prove it was only one bad night.
“We don’t ever want that to happen again,” Coates said. “Especially for me, the past two years, I’ve had spurts of games where I’ve had lulls and I’m just not trying to have that happen again. I can’t have those types of games.”
Message heard. Now they have to answer.
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NO. 2 SOUTH CAROLINA (3-0) at UCLA (2-0)
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles
TV: Pac-12 Network
Tickets: Available at the box office
South Carolina’s probable starters: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 Sr. (4.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 Sr. (14.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Tina Roy 5-11 Sr. (5.0 ppg, 0.7 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 So. (15.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Jr. (13.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg)
UCLA’s probable starters: G Nirra Fields 5-9 Sr. (13.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg); G Jordin Canada 5-6 So. (21.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Kari Korver 5-9 Jr. (5.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg); F Monique Billings 6-4 So. (11.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg); F Kacy Swain 6-3 Sr. (11.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg)
Next game: USC tips off vs. No. 18 Arizona State at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in Hawaii.