Toward the end of South Carolina women’s basketball’s easy 103-43 season-opening win over Alabama State on Tuesday, coach Dawn Staley put Thompson, a local walk-on guard from Lexington, into the game.
A few days earlier, Staley had done the same thing in the Gamecocks’ exhibition game. The crowd, excited for the hometown freshman who Staley specifically wanted for her 3-point prowess, revved up three times as she shot from beyond the arc, only for all three shots to miss their mark.
“Last game, our exhibition game, she didn’t hit any shots, and I texted her afterwards and I just told her don’t get swayed either way by made baskets or missed baskets,” Staley said. “You concentrate on the other things, and that’s the easiest part of her game. If she gets her feet under her, she’s not rushing, she’s gonna be able to knock down shots and stress the defense out.”
Against Alabama State, with friends and family in the crowd of 10,586, Thompson’s first shot, a 3-pointer, once again missed, and the fans’ excitement died down momentarily.
But one of Thompson’s fellow freshmen, Brea Beal, pulled down the offensive rebound, and Thompson followed up with a short baseline jumper for her first collegiate points.
Fifteen seconds later, the Gamecocks were on the fast break after a blocked shot, and Thompson was out in front. She sank the layup, and the crowd got louder. Twenty-three seconds after that, sophomore Destanni Henderson found Thompson open for 3, and she sank the shot.
In 38 seconds, she had scored seven points. Alabama State called timeout, and Thompson’s teammates swarmed toward her.
“I was very nervous before I got on the court. Like when (Staley) called my name, I was extremely nervous. But when I got out there, I was calm and I hit the first shot and I was like, ‘OK, this is looking good.’ So I just tried again and kept making them,” Thompson said.
“It’s great. Olivia’s been a Gamecock fan, her family’s been Gamecock fans all of their lives. She was living out a dream today,” Staley said of the sequence.
For good measure, Thompson hit one more 3-pointer before the game ended to reach 10 points in seven minutes of play — or, as someone jokingly put it to Staley after the game, on pace to shatter A’ja Wilson’s scoring record.
Of course, Thompson will face a tall challenge getting minutes on a crowded Gamecocks roster. But on Tuesday night, she got to celebrate with her family and teammates and not think about all that.
“We still have a lot of stuff to work on, and personally I still have a lot of stuff to work, but I’m still on Cloud Nine, to be honest. Because it just felt really good for my confidence … and helped me out a lot mentally. So I just want to keep that same confidence and energy throughout the whole season,” Thompson said.