The Daily Gamecock

Bigger, taller women's basketball team begins season

Gamecocks plan on pounding the paint this weekend

Coach Dawn Staley hopes to set the tone for the season with a slight departure from last year’s philosophy when the women’s basketball team gets its 2013 campaign underway today against Charleston Southern.

With a significantly taller lineup, Staley’s Gamecocks will look to command the low post.

“I think we have the players that have proven throughout our preseason that they can score on the block,” Staley said. “They can demand the ball, and they can actually execute down there in the paint.”

In No. 22 South Carolina’s exhibition game against North Greenville, the Gamecocks seemed to take their coach’s words to heart, dominating the game down low and scoring 78 of their 96 points in the paint.

A large factor in the low post this year — both literally and figuratively — will be 6-foot-4-inch junior center Elem Ibiam. One of three captains chosen by her teammates, Ibiam scored 20 points in the exhibition contest to go with five rebounds and three blocks.

While Ibiam acknowledged that post-play will be a focus this season, she stressed that control in the paint makes life easier on the perimeter players as well.

“[Playing in the post] has been an emphasis from the coaches,” Ibiam said. “But also, if we don’t have it, our guards are there for us to kick it back out and give them a shot, so just to kind of open the paint for our guards.”

One of the guards who will benefit from Ibiam’s command of the paint will be sophomore Khadijah Sessions. The youngest of the team’s three captains, Sessions turned heads in the Gamecocks’ NCAA tournament run last year that was cut short by an upset loss to Kansas.

In her second year with the program, Sessions will look to expand on a tradition of strong guard-play at South Carolina. And Staley, a former guard who was inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame this year, said she has been pleased with the progression of her young point guard.

“Sessions has done everything that we’ve asked her to do. Now it’s time for her to just put into action her preparation,” Staley said. “She’s really aware of a lot of things that young point guards aren’t.”

After sitting behind star point guard Ieasia Walker for most of last year’s season, Sessions said the she has gained enough experience to expand on her strong finish to last season.

While the team was known as an offensive juggernaut a year ago, the defense struggled at times,
though it posted good stats for the year. After a full offseason to try and right the ship on defense, Staley said she has seen improvement.

“We’re getting there, as far as just keep making the adjustments to how we think the officiating is going to be,” Staley said. “We’re not there completely.”

Staley said that her starting five against the Buccaneers Friday will consist of Sessions, Ibiam, sophomores Tiffany Mitchell and Asia Dozier and South Carolina’s third captain, junior preseason
All-SEC forward Aleighsa Welch.

Though each of the starting five has experience in the collegiate game, the team will show its youth on the bench. Staley said she will look for early contributions from players like freshmen Tiffany Davis and Alaina Coates; the latter was named a McDonald’s and Parade All-American in 2013.

As the Gamecocks start their season ranked in the top-25, they will bring high expectations to the Colonial Life Arena.

But if you ask the players, they’re just ready to get the season underway.

“It’s exciting. We’ve just been waiting for our season to start,” Ibiam said. “Preseason, you’re just kind of waiting, waiting, waiting. For the season to be literally less than 24 hours away, we’re all excited.”