The South Carolina women’s basketball team has set high standards for itself after its recent conference success. The four time defending regular season champions and three time defending tournament champions have won their SEC opener the past four seasons.
South Carolina (11-1) looks to continue that trend as it hosts Texas A&M (11-3) in the SEC opener, but it will not be an easy feat. Head coach Dawn Staley recognizes the challenges the team will now face, starting with A&M's guards.
“They have great guard play, their back court is a pretty good duo and Carter and Williams, they can score the ball,” Staley said. “Gary Blair does a great job of putting them in positions to score — all of them, all of their players. He gets the most out of them and puts them in spots where they are the strongest.”
Each team will have to fight to maintain the pressure on both sides of the court. Staley states that the Aggies could potentially have to overcome some depth issues similar to what her team has been experiencing.
But despite the numerous amount of injuries for the Gamecocks during non-conference play, they have been able to work through and overcome the setbacks, resulting in just one loss in the first half of the season.
“I like where we are. I mean, with the injuries that we’ve had, we’ve put players in positions that ... (are) unfamiliar to them,” Staley said.
Because of the injuries, the Gamecocks needed players to step up to new challenges, and that is exactly what some of them did.
Freshman Bianca Jackson and junior Doniyah Cliney have recently been given opportunities to start and play positions they normally wouldn't play, and the coaching staff is pleased with how they have stepped into these roles. Staley says Jackson would not have gotten those experiences if there had not been any injuries and, because of her ability to play, her team feels very comfortable with what she is doing.
Not only is South Carolina able to confide in its team, but fans can also believe in its versatility. This has allowed the team to develop and gain successful wins, with the most recent being at Temple University before the break.
The Gamecocks believe they have the confidence as they head into SEC play, but Texas A&M will test their true ability to see if they can live up to their unwavering season last year.
With the days leading up to the big game, South Carolina has been in full preparation. Staley emphasizes how her team has come back and had three good practices.
“To prepare for our first SEC game and I think that they got a great mindset. A mindset in which is not competing with anything besides with what they have, which is play basketball,” Staley said.
After those practices, Staley hopes they are in the right mindset as they officially begin their quest for their fifth straight SEC regular season title on Sunday.