Dawn Staley: ‘I’m encouraged’ despite Gamecocks’ recent losses
Who: No. 18 South Carolina (3-3) vs. Dayton (2-3)
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN
Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia
Series history: This will be the first-ever meeting between South Carolina and Dayton, the first time this season the Gamecocks will be facing a program it has never played before.
South Carolina’s projected starting lineup: Junior guard Tyasha Harris, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper, sophomore guard Bianca Jackson, redshirt senior guard Donyiah Cliney, redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings
Dayton’s projected starting lineup: Junior guard Jayla Scaife, senior guard Lauren Cannatelli, redshirt sophomore guard Araion Bradshaw, junior forward Jordan Wilmoth, redshirt junior forward Julia Chandler
Injury report: Redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings, redshirt senior guard Nelly Perry and redshirt senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore are all healthy but limited in the number of minutes they can play.
South Carolina notes: The Gamecocks have lost back-to-back nonconference games for the first time since 2010 and are trying to avoid their worst start to a season since 2010-2011. ... Redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper currently ranks seventh in the SEC points per game at 16.8. ... USC has taken 125 3-pointers in six games this season, making 39 on them. Both marks are on pace to become the highest of the Dawn Staley era.
Dayton notes: Araion Bradshaw played at South Carolina her freshman season, averaging 6.6 minutes, 0.9 points, 0.8 rebounds and 0.75 assists per game in 24 games, before transferring to Dayton. The former five-star recruit is averaging 5.2 points, 5 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game while starting for the Flyers this season. ... Junior guard Jayla Scaife leads the team in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal attempts per game and is sixth in the Atlantic 10 in both points and rebounds per contest. ... Dayton ranks 252nd in the nation in rebounding margin, and its opponents are averaging 16.8 offensive rebounds per game, 325th in the country.
‘We’re in a good place’
South Carolina hadn’t lost back-to-back nonconference games since 2010, until it did so against Oregon State and Drake over Thanksgiving weekend in Vancouver. But they were narrow losses — two points to the Beavers and in overtime to the Bulldogs, so coach Dawn Staley is not buying into any doom or gloom narratives.
“I know what you guys write and what you say is a lot different than what’s happening with our team. You look at the record, a call here or there, a turnover here or there, and you’re writing a different narrative,” Staley told reporters. “I like our defense, I like our rebounding. We didn’t turn the ball over a whole lot. We’re in a really good place. I just want our kids to hold on to our defensive pressure. The pace of the offense is pretty good.”
Despite their 3-3 record, the Gamecocks feature a top-40 scoring offense in the country and force the 35th most turnovers per game.
Redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper is coming off a career-best 31 points against Drake in USC’s last game and is leading the team in points per game. She’s accounted for more than 20 percent of the Gamecocks’ field goal attempts this season, and Staley wants to see even more of that.
“You gotta go to the players that are getting it done for us. She’s more efficient with the ball, she’s shooting the ball a little bit better, she’s dishing it out. At this point, we probably need her to shoot it a little bit more considering that she can create her own shot,” Staley said.
On the flip side, junior guard Tyasha Harris also tallied a season high in points against Drake, with 18, but her start to the season has been much slower as she is shooting just 38.3 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3, while her assist numbers have also taken a dip. But Staley sees improvement as of late.
“She has to be a lot more aggressive for us to win basketball games, and she will be,” Staley promised.
Dayton’s opponents take just 21.4 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, one of the lowest marks in the country. That should change against South Carolina, which is putting up 3s at the highest rate of Staley’s tenure.
The plus side of that is when those shots are falling, Staley thinks her team can play with anyone in the country. When they aren’t — USC is shooting 31.2 from long range this year, 155th in the country — the Gamecocks still need to find a way to win.
“When you’re as dedicated as we are to that 3-point line, you’re going to have nights when you don’t hit any,” Staley said. “If we don’t, I do still think we got a shot at beating teams because of our ability to penetrate off the dribble and our guard play.”