The South Carolina women’s basketball team will look to continue its unblemished campaign Thursday night when it hosts Charlotte (1-5) at 8 p.m.
Although a road test against No. 9 Duke on Sunday looms, head coach Dawn Staley maintained her team is taking everything one game at a time.
Last year, Charlotte snapped the Gamecocks’ streak of eight straight wins by 20 points to open the season by keeping the contest within 15 points. Despite a significant loss in talent from a year ago, Staley knows the 49ers will bring high intensity into Colonial Life Arena.
Unless a historic upset occurs Thursday night, the No. 1 team in the nation will enter Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday undefeated for its toughest test before the new year.
For South Carolina (6-0) to pick up its second top-25 win in the nonconference portion of its schedule, it will need junior guard Khadijah Sessions to continue her poised play. Sessions is tied for first in the nation with an 11 to 1 assist-turnover ratio after registering a career-high eight assists in Monday’s win over North Carolina Central.
“Whether it’s me being in the starting lineup or not, I have the same role and the same job, which is to lead this team and that’s what I’m going to continue to do,” Sessions said.
The team has followed the lead of Sessions thus far, as evidenced by the team’s nation-leading 2 to 1 assist-turnover ratio. This team-wide statistic is particularly notable in the early portion of the season because it shows discipline while teams across the country try and work out the kinks.
Staley continues to tinker rotations with her deep roster in an early season stretch that has seen the Gamecocks fight to hold off Southern California and Syracuse by single digits. Seven players have started a game thus far, and Staley intends to continue varying rotations leading into the beginning of conference play in January.
“I think young players really underestimate all the details that [are] needed to continue to have success,” Staley said. “And it’s hard to sustain that because their attention spans are shorter. Each practice and each film session it gets a little bit better.”
In the midst of different combinations, Staley has managed to keep her team fresh and balanced. Only junior guard Tiffany Mitchell and senior forward Aleighsa Welch average more than 20 minutes played per game. Eight players are averaging at least five points per game.
One thing Staley has kept quiet is how she plans to use freshman forward A’ja Wilson in the future. Wilson is second on the team with 13.2 points per game and is tied for the team lead with 7.2 rebounds per game. However, Wilson has been in the Gamecock starting five only once.
Wilson has credited her teammates, particularly the upperclassmen, in quickening her learning curve to the collegiate game. Her most significant growing moment to date was likely in the Junkanoo Jam Championship game against No. 22 Syracuse.
The Gamecocks overcame a four-point halftime deficit behind Wilson’s 11 second-half points in a game she logged a career-high 26 minutes. Although Wilson said she was experiencing fatigue towards the end of the game, her teammates pushed her to elevate her game.
This exchange of knowledge from the experienced to the inexperienced players should serve the Gamecocks well come tournament time in March, which Staley said has been the goal all along.
“I do think we’re improving. We’re just constantly trying to get better for us,” Staley said. “There were lessons in every game that we played, so hopefully when we take the court [Thursday] we’ll continue to work towards that progress.”