Sunday’s exhibition contest against Coker wasn’t exactly supposed to be a challenge for the No. 2 South Carolina women’s basketball team, but the Gamecocks proved just how dominant they could be this season, winning with a final score of 100-25.
The victory was South Carolina’s only preseason game, and head coach Dawn Staley said that despite the lopsided score, the Gamecocks don’t have it all figured out quite yet.
“We’ll talk to [the players] about losing the innocence of the preseason and moving into our season and playing games, and playing time, and starting lineups and all of those things,” Staley said. “So, I think it’s just going to be something that we’ll have to deal with as the year goes on.”
The game was South Carolina’s first chance to see its quartet of highly-touted freshman in action, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
Guard/forward A’ja Wilson, last year’s No. 1 overall recruit, led the Gamecocks in scoring with a game-high 18 points. She was just as active on the boards, bringing down a game-high 10 rebounds to round out her double-double.
“I was very nervous,” Wilson said. “But really once you get out there and kind of see your teammates kind of hype up and excited, then it just kind of goes away once the tip is off.”
While her offensive numbers were staggering considering the circumstances, Wilson’s defense is still a work in progress, by her own admission. But she didn’t prove to be a major liability Sunday, tallying three blocks on the day.
One look at Wilson’s 6-foot-5 frame was a pretty good indicator that she’d have a productive game against a Coker team whose tallest player is only six feet. Her fellow freshmen made an impact in their first collegiate action, as well.
Bianca Cuevas scored seven points on the day and added three rebounds from her point guard position. South Carolina’s freshman quartet was rounded out by guard Kaydra Duckett and center Jatarie White , who turned in four and three points, respectively.
Sunday wasn’t all about the newcomers, however. South Carolina is one of the biggest teams in the country, and the Gamecock front court showed flashes of how much trouble it could give opponents in the paint this year.
Sophomore center Alaina Coates, last season’s SEC Freshman of the Year, was South Carolina’s second-leading scorer with 16 points. She also hauled in seven rebounds and blocked a game-high four shots. Senior center Elem Ibiam was the third Gamecock to reach double-figures, scoring 12 on the day.
“There’s room for improvement, but overall, I feel like we did do what we came to do,” Coates said. “We feel pretty accomplished, but of course, we’re looking for more.”
South Carolina won’t have to wait long for its first test of the year. Southern California will visit Colonial Life Arena in both teams’ season openers and, although the Trojans are unranked, the Gamecocks didn’t play a power-conference team until the fifth game of the season last year.
But as the No. 2 team in the nation, South Carolina appears ready and willing to take on all challengers this year. And the team isn’t being bashful with its postseason aspirations.
“Since last year when it ended, we were just ready to get back out there,” Coates said. “We’re trying to get this Final Four ... National Championship.”