After a 12-day break for final exams, No. 4 South Carolina women’s basketball returns to the court Sunday to play underdog Savannah State — but the Gamecocks will still do so without three of their top guards.
Speaking to the media Friday, USC head coach Dawn Staley said redshirt senior Lindsey Spann, senior Bianca Cuevas-Moore and redshirt junior Te’a Cooper will remain sidelined at Colonial Life Arena on Sunday in a game that the Gamecocks (9-1) are expected to dominate against the lowly Tigers (2-6).
Spann and Cuevas-Moore have both missed time with sprained knees, Cuevas-Moore since the beginning of the regular season and Spann since Nov. 30. On Friday, Staley said Cuevas-Moore, who had progressed further in her recovery than Spann, had suffered a “minor setback” while practicing.
“Bianca won’t be playing. ... The doctors are taking a look at her to see where she is,” said Staley.
With South Carolina having played 10 of its 32 regular season games without Cuevas-Moore, Staley did not deny that a possible medical redshirt is on the table for the veteran, who has appeared in 108 career games for USC.
“That’s a possibility, but we just want to make sure that we give our medical staff the best amount of time to see if she can get her knee going,” Staley said.
Spann, meanwhile, “is continuing to strengthen her knee but hasn’t practiced yet,” Staley said, ruling her out for Sunday’s game.
Cooper has yet to play this season after transferring from Tennessee. Staley had previously said the program would submit a waiver for her to become eligible to play immediately once USC’s fall semester ended. She said Friday that Cooper’s grades were still being finalized — South Carolina’s final exams run through Monday, Dec. 18.
“Once that takes place, (the waiver is) going to go in, hopefully this week,” Staley said. Staley has previously said she believes the NCAA’s decision-making process for the waiver will take a week, which would mean Cooper could return for South Carolina’s Dec. 31 game against Texas A&M at the earliest, if the waiver is granted.
Without Spann, Cuevas-Moore and Cooper, South Carolina has just nine healthy available players, and Staley has said practice has been tough going while those players try to balance basketball and exams.
“We have a young team, they really have a hard time just mentally preparing for, just compartmentalizing finals and the work that we need to get done out here on the court. And we’re just going to keep fighting to get it done,” Staley said.
Savannah State is unlikely to be much of a challenge though. The Tigers have already lost this season by 20 points to Alabama State, a team South Carolina defeated 99-31. Savannah State also ranks 334th in the country in scoring defense, 332nd in scoring offense and third-to-last of 349 Division I programs in field goal percentage.
Unsurprisingly then, Staley said her team spent the break focusing on themselves and working on its defense.
“Just trying and defending our sideline and our baseline on out-of-bounds (sets),” Staley said of the team’s focus lately. “Working on a little zone, working on a little full-court pressure, just shoring up some of the things that we’ve done well and we want to make sure we get different looks our players understand from time to time.”
South Carolina faces Savannah State on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Gamecock Fan Essentials
Who: Savannah State, 2-6 this season, including losses to mutual South Carolina opponents Alabama State and Florida
When: 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, South Carolina
Watch: Streaming on SEC Network Plus via the WatchESPN app
Listen: 107.5 The Game
History: South Carolina is 9-0 all time against Savannah State, including wins over the past seven seasons
Key Storyline: Coming off a 12-day break since its last game, South Carolina will likely have no trouble defeating Savannah State for the 10th straight time. A win would mark Dawn Staley’s 231st win at USC, tying the program record set by Nancy Wilson. A’ja Wilson also needs three free throws to break South Carolina’s program record and four points to pass Tiffany Mitchell for fifth on the Gamecocks’ career scoring list.