Over the holidays, No. 4 South Carolina women’s basketball got a variety pack of good and bad news as it prepared to open SEC play.
On one hand, redshirt senior guard Lindsey Spann has returned from a knee sprain and will be available to face Texas A&M on Sunday.
On the other, redshirt junior guard Te’a Cooper will not play as the NCAA is still considering her application for a hardship waiver that would make the transfer immediately eligible.
And somewhere in the middle, sophomore guard Tyasha Harris is battling a hand injury that will not keep her from playing but has impacted her ability to practice.
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All of these developments affecting USC’s backcourt come as the Gamecocks (11-1) welcome an Aggies squad that features “great guard play,” according to South Carolina coach Dawn Staley.
No. 22 Texas A&M will enter Sunday’s matchup attempting to snap a four-game losing streak to the Gamecocks, and it will be led by all-SEC junior Danni Williams and the nation’s top-scoring freshman, Chennedy Carter.
“Their backcourt is a pretty good duo. Carter and Williams, they can score the ball,” Staley said of the pair. “(Texas A&M coach) Gary Blair does a great job at putting them in positions to score, all of them, all of their players. He gets the most out of the them and he puts them in spots where they’re strongest.”
Carter has certainly flashed that ability to score the ball at will, putting up a school-record 46 points against Southern Cal earlier this month. It was the highest scoring output by an NCAA Division I freshman since now-WNBA superstar Elena Della Donne put up 54 points in 2009-2010.
South Carolina will counter the Aggies’ guards with Harris and Spann, but if their injuries limit their playing time, Staley will have to rely heavily on freshman Bianca Jackson and junior Doniyah Cliney, who have both been pressed into starting roles early this season.
“With the injuries that we’ve had, we’ve put players in a position where they’re not unfamiliar to them (now). You got a freshman in ... Bianca Jackson, where she’s playing all over the place. She’s playing the point, she’s playing the 2, she’s playing the 3, and she would not have gotten those experiences had we not had injuries,” Staley said Friday. “So she’s in a position where we feel real comfortable with what she’s doing. The same with Doniyah Cliney. They’re playing all over the perimeter, so we’re pretty versatile, and there’s not any positions they have been in that scares them or scares the coaching staff.”
However, Staley didn’t try to deny that USC’s offense continues to run through its post play, specifically senior A’ja Wilson and redshirt junior Alexis Jennings.
As a result, she said, the focus for the Gamecock guards will be to limit Texas A&M on defense and exploit the Aggies’ lack of depth: Four Texas A&M players are averaging more than 30 minutes per game, while just seven average more than 10. By comparison, South Carolina has just one player, Harris, who averages more than 30 minutes and nine players who play more than 10.
Despite the shuffle of players on and off the court, Staley said she has been pleased with her team’s focus since returning from the holiday break, especially because the Gamecocks now have a stretch of a few weeks in which academics are not competing with their athletic commitments.
“I think they have a great mindset, a mindset which is not competing with anything besides what they have to do, which is play basketball,” Staley said.
Gamecock Fan Essentials
Who: No. 4 South Carolina (11-1) vs. No. 22 Texas A&M (11-3)
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, SC
Watch: SEC Network
Listen: 107.5 The Game
History: South Carolina leads the all-time series 4-3, including four straight wins since 2015. Most recently, USC defeated the Aggies 80-64 on the road in February.
Key Storyline: Texas A&M freshman Chennedy Carter is the top-scoring freshman in the country right now, and with South Carolina continuing to not be at full strength at guard, it will be crucial for the Gamecocks that freshman Bianca Jackson put together a defensive performance similar to the one she had against Duke and its elite guards.