Rested team to take on Florida
Who: No. 11 South Carolina (18-6, 10-1 SEC) vs. Florida (6-18 2-9 SEC)
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17
Where: Exactech Arena at O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Florida
Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN
Radio: 98.5 FM in Columbia area
Series history: South Carolina is 18-20 all-time against the Gators, including 8-10 in Gainesville. Under Dawn Staley, however, the Gamecocks have won 10 in a row.
Last meeting: Earlier this season, the two teams met at Colonial Life Arena. USC sprinted out to a 19-0 lead over UF and never looked back in a 71-40 blowout. Senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore led all scorers with 16 points.
South Carolina projected starting lineup: Junior guard Tyasha Harris, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper, redshirt senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore, redshirt senior forward Alexis Jennings, junior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan
Florida projected starting lineup: Redshirt senior guard Funda Nakkasoglu, redshirt sophomore guard Danielle Rainey, sophomore guard Kiara Smith, freshman guard Emanuely de Oliveira, redshirt junior forward Zada Williams
How will the starters bounce back: The last time South Carolina played Florida was the first time coach Dawn Staley found a starting five she really liked: a trio of point guards in Tyasha Harris, Te’a Cooper and Bianca Cuevas-Moore and a pair of fowards in Alexis Jennings and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan.
Including that game, Staley has gone with that lineup for nine of the last 10 contests. But on Thursday against Georgia, it showed serious problems, leading her to bench them all in one swoop less than two minutes into the game. Afterward, Staley didn’t mince words.
“We don’t want anyone having to think they have to play spectacular basketball. We have to have players that make basketball plays. Shoot when you’re open, pass when you’re not. Extra possessions, go rebound the basketball. It’s very simple, but we have some players that sometimes muddy the waters when it’s unnecessary,” Staley said.
Whether or not that means Staley plans to make changes to the starting group remains up in the air, though she seemed to indicate she’s willing to give the top five a chance to make up for Georgia, albeit with little margin for error.
“I hope that with what happened ... it’ll give our starters a nudge to go ahead and do what they need to do. If our starters don’t start performing well, yes, I’ll change the lineup. I’m not afraid to do that. I like to keep the same lineup. I like continuity, but I also like production, and I’ve been preaching it to them all season long: The most productive people play,” Staley said.
Resting on their laurels: Similarly, Staley doesn’t want anyone on her team thinking that just because the Gamecocks blew out Florida a month ago, they’ll have a walk in the park Sunday.
“For me, I’m excited to go play Florida. It’s a team that we beat pretty handily here a few weeks ago. I just don’t want our players to rest on their laurels thinking that’s it’s going to be an easy win. We gotta bring it,” Staley said.
The Gators are in second-to-last place in the SEC and shoot the ball worse than any other team in the conference. If there’s one thing UF does do fairly well, it’s shoot 3-pointers — Florida ranks 12th nationally in 3-point rate and makes those shots at a 30.6 percent rate. And earlier this year, the Gators managed to upset Missouri in Gainesville. So Staley needs her team to be focused.
“We gotta hold people accountable for being productive and doing their job,” Staley said. “If not, there’s somebody down the line that’s gonna step in and want to play and showcase their talent and impact the game. So hopefully with a day of rest (Friday) and us preparing on Saturday, hopefully that’s enough for us to go down there and be energized to win another SEC game on the road.”
Re-emergence of Destanni Henderson: One player who’s threatening to steal a starting spot is freshman guard Destanni Henderson, who actually started six games earlier in the season before being replaced by Cuevas-Moore. Coming off the bench, she’s averaging 11.75 points and three assists over the last four games, impressing Staley in the process.
“She’s fearless, she’s a great listener, she’s a pleaser, so I’m not surprised by her play and her ability to impact the game. She’s a quick guard, athletic, she’s got a scorer’s mentality and yet she’s got great court vision,” Staley said.
For Henderson, playing on a roster full of talented guards has meant she’s sometimes struggled to stand out, but it’s also given her the opportunity to grow as a freshman, she said.
“It’s a learning process for me, just trying to see if I’m leadership and trying to pick from other guards. It’s really been a process just trying to do what I do best, but also learn too,” Henderson said.