After having its historic 32-1 season cut short due to COVID-19, the South Carolina women’s basketball team looks to finish what it started in its 2019-2020 season.
Although the Gamecocks have won a national championship under head coach Dawn Staley, this is the first time the women’s team was voted the top spot on the preseason rankings in program history. Remaining No. 1 in the preseason AP and Coaches Polls, the Gamecocks look to continue their success after sweeping the SEC in their conference schedule last year.
“Usually, I can tell by the personality of a team if we’ll be successful, or not as successful,” Staley wrote in a diary entry for The Undefeated. “I like the personality of the team I’ve seen so far. They’re different. They’re nice.”
One asset to Staley’s squad this year is sophomore forward Aliyah Boston. Boston averaged 12.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in the regular season last year. Boston was named the 2019 National Freshman of the Year and also received the Lisa Leslie Center of the Year award.
With Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan leaving South Carolina after their senior seasons last year, leadership roles will need to be filled within the squad.
“I do think that I will try to take on more of a leadership role,” Boston said in a press conference. “But, I mean, throughout our entire team, we just have great communicators. So together, as one group, we have been doing a great job of leading each other.”
Sophomore guard Zia Cooke will also be returning to the squad alongside Boston. Cooke averaged 12 points per game, 1.8 assists per game and 36 total steals last season. Cooke was also named on the SEC All-Freshman Team last year.
Recruiting wise, Dawn Staley is bringing in only one commit, freshman guard Eniya Russell. Russell was named to the McDonald’s All-American Team and the Washington Post’s first-team All-Metro in 2020. Russell has some big shoes to fill, however, after Tyasha Harris was drafted to the WNBA.
“I know I’m good, but I feel like I haven’t reached the surface of what I can be,” Russell said in an interview with the Washington Post. “They’re definitely going to prepare me to be better than I am right now.”
The Gamecocks open up their season in an exhibition matchup against College of Charleston on Wednesday. South Carolina then plays South Dakota, Oklahoma and No. 21 Gonzaga in the Women’s Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic Nov. 28 through Nov. 30.
In conference play, the Gamecocks will have to go on the road for their tougher games. They face top-ranked No. 11 Kentucky and No. 6 Mississippi State on the road and then finish off the regular season on the road again at No. 13 Texas A&M.
In non-conference play, South Carolina’s significant matchups are No. 8 NC State at home and at No. 3 UConn, who they face in early February as a break from their in-conference schedule.