Ignore the score. South Carolina was always expected to thump North Georgia in their exhibition on Friday. The margin by which it happened was eye-opening on the surface — 112-48 — but mostly irrelevant.
Dawn Staley knows the Gamecocks don’t have time to pat themselves on the back for big wins against over-matched opponents. A Nov. 10 road game against No. 4 Maryland awaits, and after that, a challenging Thanksgiving tournament with the gauntlet of SEC games not far behind.
“We got a lot to work on. From a defensive standpoint, we had a lot of breakdowns, just little detail things that we must clean up. We had bad closeouts. We’re a work in progress,” Staley said. “I like the fact that we have a whole lot of potential with the players that we have out there on the floor, but we certainly saw some bright spots.”
Defensive room to grow
Normally, 25 forced turnovers, 15 steals, 12 blocks and 0.61 points allowed per possession, like the Gamecocks had Friday night, would be cause for celebration. But Staley saw it differently.
“I like our potential. I like the fact that we are connected, but when there are multiple movements happening at the same time, we’re not good in that type of scenario. You look at the stat sheet, yes, we run around. I thought we were the superior team so we did that part of it like we’re supposed to,” Staley said.
“But when you look at it as a coach, you’re looking at those nuances that will come up against the opponents that we’re gonna face in our conference, the nonconference, opponents on the road. Those type of things, you have to be a little more sharp with in order for you to win basketball games, because that’s the difference maker.”
North Georgia did make 9 3-pointers, more than all but two opponents had last year, so perimeter defense and rotations might be particular areas to address moving forward.
Works in progress
Three players who stood out in Friday’s scrimmage were freshman guard Zia Cooke, who led all scorers with 18 points, freshman forward Aliyah Boston, who tallied 11 points, 8 rebounds and five blocks, and junior guard/forward LeLe Grissett, who scored 16 second-half points on 7-of-8 shooting. Staley had positive things to say about them all, but noted several areas in which they could grow.
“I think Lele is just a really good work in progress. This is a great game for her to just build on. I thought she made some great decisions out there on the floor like when to post up. The offensive rebounding is her thing,” Staley said. “But defensively, I just think she moved like a guard out there, and that’s the thing that’s probably come the hardest for her, to be able to lock in and defend on the perimeter. But I thought she did extremely well tonight.”
Cooke turned the ball over a team-high five times and must learn to balance her natural aggressiveness with the ability to distribute the ball more, Staley said.
“Zia’s not used to playing with as many great players as she’s playing with. So she’s trying to pick and choose her spots,” Staley said. “I want her to be aggressive, I want her to find her way with this team, because she can do a lot of things with the basketball. She just can’t do them all at once.”
Boston scored 11 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked five shots, but Staley noted that she’s still adjusting to the college level like Cooke, but with a different challenge. And it’s worth noting that North Georgia didn’t have a player close to her 6-foot-5 length.
“I thought Aliyah was rushed a little bit. She’s not used to having this much room. She’s not used to having one-on-one coverage, and sometimes that makes you play a bit quicker and makes you play not having your butt underneath your feet. So she was rushing a little bit,” Staley.
“I thought in the second half, she did a better job of taking her time. She does a good job communicating out there on the floor, she blocks shots, she’s a pretty good defender. I thought she played as well as she could play for it being her first college game.”
Pounding the paint
Last season, the talk surrounding USC’s offense was all about 3-point shooting as Staley relied less on a thin frontcourt. On Friday, the Gamecocks lived down low, scoring 70 points in the paint and making 24 free throws. Before the fourth quarter, USC was just 1-of-6 from 3-point range.
With Boston and senior forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, who looked crisp, efficient and re-energized on both ends, it’s no surprise that Staley thinks that paint points will continue to be vital for USC’s offense throughout the season.
“We got post play. We got guards that are explosive, we got post players that will probably shoot well in the upper 50s (percent) from the floor,” Staley said. “We got to find a great balance, but we have to also know that we have those bigs in the back of our pockets and we can score in the paint at will. But it’s always been a focus of mine to get the ball inside and let’s play off the post play.”
Those points from the lane were also boosted by USC thriving in transition — 30 of Friday’s points came on fast breaks, and slashing guards like Cooke, senior Tyasha Harris and sophomore Destanni Henderson will look to push the pace. A lack of outside shooting might bog the offense down a little in halfcourt sets, but it won’t matter if the Gamecocks never stop running.
Who: No. 8 South Carolina vs. Alabama State
When: 7 pm Tuesday
Where: Colonial Life Arena
Watch: Streaming online on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN