November 25, 2020. This is the first day that the DI basketball teams can start the season and the day that the South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team, ranked first, resumes unfinished business.
Gamecocks will be back after dominating last season with a record of 32-1, holding the longest winning streak in the country and securing the SEC title. The spread of the coronavirus left the question of whether Gamecocks could have taken their season to an NCAA championship unanswered.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley describes the team’s current mentality as “ultra-competitive”. Coach of the year 2020 Naismith said the Gamecocks are ready to start where they left off.
“They’re under arrest,” Staley told NCAA.com “It doesn’t mean they were perfect, but it doesn’t come at the expense of them not trying. This team is eager to get back on the court and have competition other than themselves. ”
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The Gamecocks will move on in the 2020-21 season without their two senior leaders – Ty Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan. Bringing in the 2019 recruiting class # 1 last season, South Carolina had three dominant freshmen who will return as seasoned sophomores – Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke and Brea Beal.
Boston, a sophomore wing, became the first national freshman of the year for the South Carolina women’s basketball program on ESPN, WBCA and USBWA. She was also nominated for the All-America Second Team. Boston had a major presence in the painting and set the all-time record for offensive rebounds in a SEC game (10). The SEC freshman and defensive player of the year also holds South Carolina’s record for most blocks (10) and the second largest rebounds (25) in a game. In Boston’s first season, it averaged 12.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg and 86 blocks.
Staley told me that playmaker Zia Cooke is one of the most athletic players she coached in her 12 years in South Carolina. Cooke set South Carolina’s record in most freshman-initiated games (33), averaging 12 points. She was also appointed to the SEC freshman team.
Second-year guard Brea Beal – who could play in several positions – drew with Cooke in most freshman-started games. She averaged 6 points and 5.4 boards per game.
Staley said the former elderly have left a legacy of leadership for this young group.
“Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about chemistry,” she said. “This team has been together since last March. And I know that we lost two key figures in our league, but they know how it is now. They played at the SEC, which I think is the best conference in the country for an entire season and an entire postseason, as far as the SEC has to offer, then they’re ready. I want them to experience an NCAA tournament, because that’s really the fun part of the season. ”
South Carolina won 26 consecutive games and were not beaten in the SEC (16-0) last season. Staley considers his team a candidate for the national title.
“We know what it is like to be neglected,” said Staley. “We know what it’s like to be under-respected. We can only control what we can control. If the narrative is not South Carolina being the best team, we’ve been there before, so we’re not going to give that energy. Let’s create the narrative. Hopefully, we created the narrative for what we did last year. Just win, win, win. And when you do, eventually women’s basketball decision makers will have to come to Columbia, South Carolina, and talk about our team if we continue on this path of success. ”