USC Women's Basketball

This Gamecock is a ‘stable force’ Dawn Staley will lean on in SEC tournament

Seniors Bianca Cuevas-Moore, Alexis Jennings and Doniyah Cliney play last game in Colonial Life Arena

On senior night fifth year seniors Bianca Cuevas-Moore and Alexis Jennings and Doniyah Cliney were presented their jerseys and honored for playing with the Gamecocks.
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On senior night fifth year seniors Bianca Cuevas-Moore and Alexis Jennings and Doniyah Cliney were presented their jerseys and honored for playing with the Gamecocks.

If you’ve watched any video of Dawn Staley previewing a South Carolina women’s basketball game over the past year, you’ve likely seen Doniyah Cliney too.

After every practice, while Staley talks to reporters, the quiet senior Gamecock guard sticks around to put up extra shots. Once or twice, those shots have even caromed off the rim and briefly interrupted Staley’s answers.

Like Cliney, the routine of those extra shots is all about consistency. In a season full of up-and-down performances and almost a dozen different starting lineup combinations, Cliney’s approach is unchanging, Staley said.

“It’s great to know that she’s the example of what a senior in college is. This is her routine. Whether she plays one minute or two or 30 minutes, this is what she’s done, and that’s why she’s been able to hit big shots when called on,” Staley said.

In games, Cliney has experienced the full range of production after stepping up to become a workhorse starter last year. She began the current season in the starting lineup as several other players worked their way back from injury. Then, shortly before conference play, she was benched in favor of a three-point guard lineup of Tyasha Harris, Te’a Cooper and Bianca Cuevas-Moore.

In the first few games of 2019, Cliney barely saw the floor — by Feb. 7, after 10 SEC contests, the fifth-year veteran had scored just seven points. But things began to turn around after that. As a reserve against Georgia, she tallied 12 points. A few games later, she was back in the starting five against Tennessee, tying her career high with 16 points.

“She was being a coach,” Cliney said of Staley’s decision to put her on the bench. “ ... It doesn’t matter if I didn’t play or not. I knew whenever she called my number, I’d be ready to play.”

As the Gamecocks now prepare to pursue their fifth consecutive SEC tournament championship, Cliney’s number will likely be called by Staley frequently.

“We’re gonna lean heavily on our experienced players because they’ve been there before, they understand how to take one game at a time and not get too far ahead of ourselves. (Cliney’s) been a stable force for us,” Staley said Wednesday.

That stability has been there all season and beyond, even through the stretches where she barely played — Cliney’s mindset about her lack of playing time was stoic, bordering on nonchalant.

“I’m a good sponge. I take in what’s there for me, and I just sit back and listen, and even not play,” Cliney said after the Georgia game. “That just means I got to talk to my teammates, keep them in the game mentally. I don’t worry about myself. It’s all about the team.”

In her five years with the team and in the program, Cliney has often been overshadowed by bigger names and more outgoing personalities. But it’s precisely her low-key, level-headed approach that has made her invaluable for South Carolina, Staley said.

“She’s never complained throughout this year, and she had a whole lot to complain about as far as being a starter in the beginning, playing very little in the middle and becoming a starter (again). If she had sulked at any time, she wouldn’t be ready to play for us at this moment,” Staley said.

Who: No. 12 South Carolina (21-8, 13-3 SEC) vs. Georgia (18-11, 9-7) OR Arkansas (17-13, 6-10)

When: 6 p.m. Friday, March 8

Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, South Carolina

Watch: SEC Network

Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia area

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.