After a year of challenges, Staley quite proud of her team
On a day in which South Carolina women’s basketball fans didn’t have a whole lot to cheer about, there were a pair of bright spots for the Gamecocks in their Sweet 16 loss to Baylor on Saturday.
With 1:19 left to play and Baylor up 90-66, USC senior guard Bianca Cuevas-Moore stepped to the free throw line and sank a pair of free throws. They put her at 13 points for the game and more importantly, exactly 1,000 for her career.
Cuevas-Moore is only the 33rd player in program history to hit that milestone. Coming to Columbia as a McDonald’s All-American out of high school, she has had a famously up-and-down relationship with coach Dawn Staley that both have admitted became tense at times. She even announced last offseason that she intended to transfer to West Virginia before returning for a fifth year with USC.
So to reach 1K in career points was a special moment for the soft-spoken veteran, the culmination of hard work and overcoming odds.
“I think it was special because I really wasn’t a starter, so coming off the bench, I think that was amazing to score 1,000 points,” Cuevas-Moore said. “My first two years, I didn’t really start, and then my junior year was on and off, and this year I was injured in the beginning and I got out of again. So I think that was a good thing.”
Her teammates made sure she knew she was right on the cusp of the milestone late in the game, Cuevas-Moore said, urging her to score with a few minutes left.
That moment caps a career with a national championship, four Sweet 16 berths and four SEC tournament titles, none of which Cuevas-Moore really expected, she admitted.
“But that shows how much progress we’ve made since I’ve gotten here. I was very excited to be a part of it. A lot of people thought we weren’t going to be able to do it, but we did it,” she said.
With Cuevas-Moore leaving, the Gamecocks will have a hole to fill in their backcourt. After Saturday’s game, however, fans breathed a sigh of relief as another hole didn’t open up — junior guard Te’a Cooper, who is eligible to turn pro after spending four years in college, definitively stated she will return to South Carolina for her senior season.
“Absolutely,” Cooper said when asked if she was coming back. When asked if she had given any thought to going pro, she simply responded, “No.”
With Cooper in the fold and the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class coming in, head coach Dawn Staley expressed optimism about the 2019-2020 season.
“(Saturday’s experience is) very valuable in that the majority of our team will come back, we’ll add some great talent with our freshman class and I think the mix of talent and experience will help us maybe erase this result,” Staley said. “but we gotta get back here. It’s a long, hard journey to get here.”