South Carolina got its 2021/22 season off on the right foot Tuesday night with a victory at #5 N.C. State. They showed why they were ranked number one heading into the season, and never trailed in the contest. Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks are loaded with everyone returning from last year’s Final Four squad, the addition of a high-level transfer, and the top recruiting class in the nation. Expectations are as high as they can get for this program. A road win over a top-five opponent is a good statement to send as the season begins.
Staley’s Gamecocks Revenge Tour is Underway
Staley’s Gamecocks lost in excruciating fashion in last year’s Final Four. Whether it was the missed layups or the egregious calls that went against them, the resulting loss to Stanford was tough to take. The goal for this season is to finish the job. They took a solid step in that direction on Tuesday, avenging last season’s loss to the Wolfpack. They travel to South Dakota next to face their second straight tournament team from a season ago on the road.
South Carolina is led by its two All-Americans, Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke. The two juniors have been starters since they arrived on campus as part of the nation’s top recruiting class in 2019. They have both lived up to the hype that they brought to Columbia out of high school. Boston is on almost every preseason award lists this year, after being an All-American a season ago. She has improved and expanded her game each year in garnet and black. This offseason she focused on slimming down and improving her outside shot. Boston looks to be in phenomenal shape. If she adds a consistent jumper to her array of post moves, her game will rise to a whole new level. She is already one of the best rim protectors in the country.
Cooke is this team’s engine. She has the offensive skills and flair to get the crowd out of their seats, and she can take over a game with her shot-making. She led them on Tuesday with 17 points. Her ability to get in the lane and attack the defense just continues to get better. As her three-point shot gets more consistent, she will become even harder for opponents to try and guard.
Having the star power is nice, but the real strength of this team will be its depth. They have the ability to go at least 10 deep, maybe even more if the need arises. Boston and Cooke will garner most of the headlines, but that doesn’t take away from the contributions the rest of the squad will make. The key will be everyone filling and thriving in their roles. Destanni Henderson runs the show from the point. Brea Beal is a great perimeter defender who will hound the opposition’s best scorer. Rounding out the starting group is Victoria Saxton, who will handle all the dirty work on the interior beside Boston. All three of these ladies can star in their own right. That means on any given night one of them could step up with a big performance.
The bench is as deep and talented as any team in the nation. Kamilla Cardoza transferred in from Syracuse and brings even more size to an already big South Carolina roster. At 6’7” she will provide the rim protection when Boston is off the court. When they play at the same time, opponents will rethink any strategy that calls for attacking the paint. Laeticia Amihere also brings size off the bench at 6’4”. She is also very athletic and skilled for a player her size. She seems to improve every time she steps on the court. Lele Grissett will bring even more size off the bench when she returns from injury.
Destiny Littleton leads the guard contingent off the bench. The senior had seven quick points against the Wolfpack in the first half. Freshman Bree Hall and Raven Johnson will also see some minutes in the backcourt this season. Expect their contributions to go up as they become more acclimated to the college level.
Staley’s Gamecocks have all the tools necessary to remain atop the women’s basketball mountain all season long. She is fresh off winning an Olympic Gold Medal this summer as the head coach of Team USA. Now she sets her sights on cutting down the nets and earning another national title for her program. This team has loads of talent, experience, size, and depth. They will also be battle-tested by a strong non-conference schedule followed by the always tough SEC slate.
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