The South Carolina women's basketball team ended its season after falling to Baylor in its sixth-straight Sweet 16 run. With the 93-68 loss behind them, the Gamecocks are looking forward to next season and the talent that will come from having the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.
Head coach Dawn Staley said she hopes that the young players will utilize their experience in the Sweet 16 and learn how to deal with playing on a big stage next season.
“It’s very valuable,” Staley said. “I think the majority of our team will come back. We will add some great talent with our freshman class and I think the mix of talent and experience will help us maybe erase this result, but we have to get back here. It’s a long hard journey to get here.”
Staley will be without four key seniors this upcoming season: Alexis Jennings, Bianca Cuevas-Moore, Doniyah Cliney and Nelly Perry.
Fifth-year seniors Cuevas-Moore and Cliney played in four SEC championships, five Sweet 16s, three Elite Eights, two Final Fours and one national championship. Cuevas-Moore finished her final game with 13 points and ended her college career with 1,000 points total.
“I’m going to miss being with them. I’m just thinking about it how when I first got here on campus just visiting it was different," Cliney said. "I didn’t even want to be here at first because it was so far from home. Just to sit here and think about why I really came ... I’m glad I did.”
The Gamecocks were down 25 points going into the second half of the Baylor game but created a 16-point deficit in the third quarter with the help of Cuevas-Moore who notched four consecutive points for the Gamecocks.
“I think that just shows our passion for the game. Win, lose or draw, I know that these girls are going to come together no matter what. Even if we’re down, even if we’re up, we are going to have the same energy because we love each other that much, and we have great confidence in each other,” Jennings said.
Freshman Victoria Saxton said that she feels like the seniors' leadership will help younger players be leaders to the incoming freshmen next season.
“They led me in the right direction and keep my confidence up. They lead in helping us make sure we know our plays ... make sure we are going to class, different small things,” Saxton said.
Junior Te’a Cooper led South Carolina with 17 points against Baylor. She also said she appreciates the work and leadership of the graduating seniors.
“The fact that we get to learn from this, we get to enjoy the seniors. They got us all the way here. We believe in ourselves, we kept fighting so just knowing that we have the fight in us and we just have a lot to work on,” Cooper said.
Jennings said the No. 1 recruiting class coming in will be eager to learn, but will have a big gap to fill.
“I would just say keep the same passion that you’ve had all season, continue to compete day in and day out, and with coach on your side, the only way to go is up,” Jennings said.
Staley said the competitor in her believes South Carolina did not have a successful season, but with injuries, developing chemistry and what it took to power through those challenges led them to a Sweet 16.
"It was so many different question marks throughout the season that for us to get through it, and actually get here is an awesome feat and I am very proud of our team," Staley said.