The price of sustained success is high expectations, and South Carolina women’s basketball has certainly paid that price to start the 2018-2019 season.
The Gamecocks haven’t been 4-4 to start a season since 2010 and have dipped to their lowest AP poll ranking since October 2013. Yes, USC has played four ranked teams, including three in the top 10, but after a national championship and four consecutive Sweet 16s, some fans have been surprised and anxious to see Dawn Staley’s program stumble against competition it has beaten in previous years.
Staley herself pushed back against any doom or gloom from observers and fans, insisting the squad’s high number of newcomers, issues with injuries and tough early slate combined for a worst-case scenario as far as wins and losses go, while the Gamecocks have actually progressed since the start of the year.
“We’re used to winning, so it’s hard to take losses and big losses, but I’m encouraged because we’re getting better,” Staley said. “The load that we had in this early part of the season was a heavy load for what we were bringing in and us not being healthy. I’d have liked to have seen us at full strength, just everybody’s able to go as many minutes as we need them to go and we were able to sub the way we wanted to sub. But that’s neither here nor there. We gotta play the game.”
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Even still, she said before USC’s home contest with Appalachian State on Wednesday that simply getting above .500 will give her players an extra shot of self-belief.
“We need to see a win in the win column, and I think that takes care of the confidence,” Staley said.
The Appalachian State game begins an extended stretch of contests where South Carolina will likely be favored to win. Road contests at Duke and Purdue may present some challenges, but there is a solid chance the Gamecocks might wrap up December and enter conference play with a five-game win streak. And that slate, combined with the way the team feels it is progressing, is heartening for the program.
“I’m looking forward to playing the competition we have and getting our young players better,” Staley said.
“We definitely have confidence. We feel like we’re getting better as the games go on, so we just have to continue to show progress,” junior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan said.
At the same time, one doesn’t have to look very far to see that Carolina can be threatened by teams it’s favored against — Clemson and Dayton both gave the Gamecocks trouble on their home floor. And Staley is well aware of that.
“I’ve always said we’re a type of team that can beat any team or get beaten by any team, so we’re not looking at being the favorites, we’re looking at playing basketball the way we need to play to win basketball games tomorrow night and in March and April,” Staley said.
At this point, the poor start is in the past. All Staley can do now is try to make sure it was worth something.
“We’ve learned lessons throughout our four losses and our four wins. Only time will tell if we utilize those lessons to win some big games,” she said.
Who: No. 22 South Carolina (4-4) vs. Appalachian State (5-3)
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5
Where: Colonial Life Arena
TV: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN
Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia
Series history: South Carolina owns an 11-4 edge over Appalachian State all-time, including a current six-game win streak. Most recently, the Gamecocks defeated the Mountaineers in 2011 at home, 67-54.
South Carolina projected starting lineup: Junior guard Tyasha Harris, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper, redshirt senior guard Donyiah Cliney, redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings
Appalachian State projected starting lineup: Redshirt senior guard Madi Story, redshirt junior guard Ashley Polacek, sophomore guard Tierra Wilson, sophomore forward Lainey Gosnell, junior center Bayley Plummer