The Daily Gamecock

Season Preview: Women's basketball has chance at national title


It’s mid-November, and that means the Colonial Life Arena doors are opening and basketball season is starting. The South Carolina women’s basketball team is ready to begin its regular season after starting out strong in exhibition play.

The No. 2 women’s basketball team showed off in their exhibition game winning 93-49 against Newberry. Junior center Alaina Coates took the leading scorer position with 24 points. Senior forward Sarah Imovbioh also showed impressive talent with 11 rebounds for the Gamecocks. Imovbioh is a transfer from Virginia where she played for three seasons, averaging 10.8 rebounds per game.

For the first time, South Carolina played under new rules for Women's basketball — include four 10-minute periods, two free throws after the fifth foul and if the team in possession calls a timeout in the last minute, they automatically get moved up to the 28-foot mark on the front court. Head coach Dawn Staley thought her team handled the new changes well when competing against Newberry.

“When it’s all said and done, it’s still basketball. It’s still 40 minutes no matter how you have to slice it up,” Staley said. “For our team, they are more aware of the timeouts, and it’s good to see them embrace the newness of it and not just approach it like it’s a regular old 40 minutes.”

Over 10,000 tickets were sold for the upcoming season, and Staley is excited. She wants to make sure the crowd is feeling gratified about how the team will perform.

The Gamecocks know they have a tough schedule ahead, as they are ranked the No. 2 team in AP Preseason Poll behind the reigning National Champions, Connecticut. The last time these two teams played each other, the Gamecocks' undefeated record was broken and No. 1 position stolen in a heartbreaking 87-62 loss. They don’t face UConn this season until Feb. 8 at the Colonial Life Arena.

Finishing with 34-3 last season, South Carolina managed to make it to the NCAA Tournament in the Final Four, where they lost in a close game to Notre Dame 66-65. They did, however, win the SEC Tournament title, beating Tennessee in the final game 62-46, finishing 15-1 in conference play and coming out undefeated 15-0 at home.

Point guards are especially important and Staley recognized that they must be versatile to fill the position. Staley said sophomore guard Bianca Cuevas could be a difference-maker this season if she does what she’s supposed to do out there.

Adding a new sports performance coach, Katie Fowler, has helped the Gamecocks prepare for this season, increasing their speed of the game. Fowler handled the team well in the offseason, according to Staley.

“Everything is quicker. In the weight room it’s quicker-paced, and conditioning is quicker,” Staley said. “We don’t give them time to think. They have to think on the run.”

South Carolina has the chance to pick up where they left off in becoming the next national champions but will have to take this season one game at a time. The Gamecocks first matchup is against another top-10 team, No. 6 Ohio State on Friday at 7 p.m.