The moments of greatness were never equaled by the other times. At most, they represented a quarter of the total output.
Yet that’s what everybody seemed to notice the most.
As dominant as Alaina Coates could be, when she didn’t get the ball in her hands, she’d regress. When the 6-foot-4 center got the ball on the block and posted up, or leaped to grab her multitude of rebounds on any given day, there weren’t many that could stop her.
Ask her to play decoy, or when the ball was being fed to other players, Coates was stopping herself. Give her the ball, everything’s fine. Don’t, USC was playing four on five.
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“She knows she’s playing with some great players that can do a lot of special things with the ball,” coach Dawn Staley said. “But we know the root to getting, winning, first-round and all the way up through our last game, she has to have an impact on the game on both sides of the ball. So she understands that. And we understand that as well.”
As a junior, Coates’ game has flourished along with her mental approach. Her 17 double-doubles this year led the SEC and is 13th in the country; she averaged a double-double for the season. She’s been magnificent at times – a triple-double featuring 10 blocks against Winthrop – and merely great at other times.
What she hasn’t been is average, or pouty, or listless. Every game the Gamecocks have played, there’s been Coates in the middle, rampaging through the defense for a bucket or snaring a rebound, elbows and ponytail whipping around to start a runout.
She had two double-doubles in three games at the SEC tournament and her defense was spectacular, her long arms grabbing an out-of-bounds pass and flipping it back in for an easy two points. As her third NCAA tournament begins, she wants to keep all of it intact.
“I feel like whether I made the (SEC all-tournament team) or not, I just got to keep doing what I do,” Coates said on Thursday. “Defense is something that I pride myself on nowadays and that’s just something that I’m normally going to have to bring to the tournament.”
She’ll be challenged – if the Gamecocks get past Jacksonville, Kansas State and George Washington each have big women in the paint – but she was challenged throughout the SEC season. It’s nothing new.
Staley said she loves what her junior center has done and expects it to continue.
“Once you hit that junior year, things seem to come together for you. You take on a sacrificial role, especially. When Alaina needs to step up on both sides of the ball, she comes through for us time and time again,” Staley said. “Now she’s at a place where she’s going to make it happen through her play, from a defensive standpoint or just rebounding the basketball.”
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Who: Jacksonville (22-10) vs. USC (31-1)
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Jacksonville: G Brandi Buie 5-8 So. (8.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G Sherranda Reddick 5-8 Jr. (12.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg), F Briona Brown 5-11 Sr. (11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), G Jasmyn Brown 5-10 Fr. (7.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg), F Kimberly Dawkins 6-0 Jr. (3.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
South Carolina: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 Sr. (6.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 Sr. (15.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg); G Asia Dozier 6-0 Sr. (3.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 So. (16.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Jr. (11.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg)
Next game: The winner plays the George Washington-Kansas State winner at a time TBA on Sunday.