Lose an All-American and an all-conference defensive anchor for most of a half, and most teams get knocked off-kilter.
When it happened to South Carolina on Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, it hardly slowed the Gamecocks down.
SEC player of the year A’ja Wilson saw only three minutes in the first half against Kansas State with foul trouble. Center Alaina Coates left the bench for a stretch because of a stomach issue. Backups Sarah Imovbioh (12 minutes) and Jatarie White played 23 combined minutes in those opening two quarters, four short of their combined season average.
Yet at halftime, USC led by 19.
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“It was just something we do in practice,” Imovbioh said after the 73-47 win. “Be ready when your name gets called. Coach says there’s always going to be situations like that. So I just have to be ready, so it’s not a surprise to me.”
She finished with 22 minutes while White had 21. They combined for eight points, 12 rebounds and three assists.
And the overall efficiency didn’t miss a beat, as USC held Kansas State to 40.9 percent shooting, while connecting on 55.2 percent of its shots (and just three turnovers).
How things transpired Sunday is just standard operating procedure for South Carolina.
“That plays a huge factor in our system,” Wilson said. “That’s one of the keys to the win that coach will put on the board is bench production. Down the road, that’s really going to show.”
The backup duo also had to kick in on defending the Wildcats’ top offensive option, 6-foot-5 Breanna Lewis. The junior carried the Wildcats attack with 21 points, including 15 in the first half. But her success did little to open things for teammates.
After the game, Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley complimented the depth her team had up front and the luxury it provides.
USC now moves on to the Sweet 16, to South Dakota and toward another run at the Final Four. Perhaps those backups in the frontcourt won’t be called on so heavily again, but if they are, the Gamecocks know what to expect.
“We can’t really miss a beat,” White said. “So we have to execute and take our time and blend in with everybody else.”