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March 6, 2012
The best part of South Carolina's historic run to a 23-9 record and what will be a sure NCAA tournament berth in a week has been the change involved in it. The Gamecocks have been constantly beastly on defense and can throw different looks at an opponent on offense.
Usually in multi-game stretches, a different player or players has taken over the scoring duties. Ashley Bruner began the year as the Gamecocks' leading scorer and rebounder. After an early knee problem, La'Keisha Sutton returned to form to replace Markeisha Grant as the featured shooter. Charenee Stephens and Aleighsa Welch have been mainstays throughout.
But in the SEC tournament, Sutton's knee was limiting her push-off abilities and the whistle wasn't kind to her as she drove into the lane. Grant continues to get her points but is often taken out of the game for long stretches. USC needed an answer.
Tina Roy was it.
The freshman from Louisiana scored 26 points in three SEC tournament games, often entering on the first or second substitution and showing a new dimension to her game. Pigeonholed throughout the year as the "outside shooter," Roy's natural shooting stroke took a step forward.
Roy still drained five 3-pointers but also had five other field goals, where she would set up on the left wing or in the left corner - her spot - pump-fake and then drive the lane. That can only help as the Gamecocks continue their season in two weeks, opening the defense and letting Roy continue to progress.
"Coach did tell me if they played the outside shot, to take it to the basket," Roy said after the Gamecocks' win over Georgia. "I just work hard in practice."
A pure shooter, Roy struggled for minutes and with her percentages this season. Under 30 percent from the field for the year, Roy was often sticking on the 3-point line and over-pursuing on defense.
But like her team throughout the year, she improved, and she apparently saved her best for last.
"We felt like Tina could stretch the defense out," coach Dawn Staley said. "We know she shoots the outside shot. I put a bug in her ear to say, 'Don't rely on shooting outside shots, put the ball on the floor.' She made some things happen for us."
Staley believes her team's aggressive non-conference schedule and winning 10 games in the SEC has prepared it for the next step - not just getting to the NCAA tournament, but winning games once it's there.
USC wants to get production from up and down the bench as it does. While Sutton, Grant, Ieasia Walker, Bruner, Welch and Stephens will be the focal points, the Gamecocks want to get the others involved.
Roy is a big part of that, along with Sancheon White, Courtney Newton, Ebony Wilson and Elem Ibiam. The Gamecocks will be playing on a strange floor in the NCAA tournament - the latest "Bracketology" projections had them going to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on Missouri State in the first round - and want to have as lethal a lineup as possible.
Roy scored 17 points her seven combined games before the SEC tournament. She beat that total by nine in her three games in Nashville.
"It feels great," Roy said. "We should be good after this."
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