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November 4, 2012
VIDEO: Dawn Staley
Exhibitions are supposed to be just like the label - they don't count, so unless a team loses the game, what's seen probably shouldn't be taken too seriously.
But in South Carolina's case, with only 10 active players, what was seen on Sunday against Anderson may be exactly what will be seen five months from now.
Which means that Dawn Staley's fifth season at the Gamecocks' helm may be just as fine - or better - than her fourth.
USC throttled Anderson 88-31 in its only exhibition on Sunday, scoring the game's first nine points and leading by 30 at halftime. With such a thin bench, the Gamecocks couldn't call off the dogs when the game was clearly over, so they used constant rotations to see just what they have.
That's plenty of speed, five very promising newcomers and talented depth in the post for the first time in Staley's tenure. USC stuck with its standard three-guard lineup but consistently pushed the ball inside during its half-court possessions; its other points came from a flurry of turnovers.
It was a group effort, which is what Staley wants. After forwards Ashley Bruner and Aleighsa Welch were very much the others on the court while the guards were depended on last year, the Gamecocks seem to be focusing on their bigs this year while their guards - four of which are freshmen - work their way into the games.
"I think that's how we have to play early," Staley said. "I think our strength right now is in the post. I think that's where we can be really effective. A lot of things can happen out there on the perimeter because we're so young."
Welch took the contributions of former defensive specialist Charenee Stephens to heart, working all summer to be as nasty on defense as Stephens but also to keep improving her offensive game. She was a force on Sunday, able to be the on-the-block scorer but also picking off a couple of passes from the high corner and turning them into fast-break layups.
"I knew I had to (improve)," Welch said. "I wanted to improve my game in every aspect. With defense being a part of that, that's what I wanted to maybe work on, just banging down there and being in the right place at the right time. So it was just something I knew I had to do and had to get better at."
Welch finished with 14 points, tying freshman Asia Dozier for the team-high, and had seven rebounds. Center Elem Ibiam had 12 boards, six points and two steals before fouling out. Senior guard Sancheon White had 13 points while freshman Tiffany Mitchell (10) and Khadijah Sessions (11) each hit double figures.
The Gamecocks figure they can score and, like last year, are aiming to get most of their points off turnovers. USC had a whopping 29 off 21 Anderson flubs on Sunday, also recording 16 steals and blocking six shots.
USC attempted 17 3-pointers but most were late in the game, when the Gamecocks were avoiding any risk of injury by staying out of the lane. The nagging question that will hover over the team all year is about staying healthy - USC will have at maximum 11 players this year, but that's if sophomore Tina Roy recovers from an August knee surgery to play. That doesn't seem likely, so the 10 that played on Sunday seem to be it.
So far, so good. The newcomers each received significant minutes and Sessions stood out, with 11 points, five assists, six steals and just one turnover. She may be backing up Ieasia Walker this year, but she'll have to play; Sunday was an example of what Staley hopes to see every night.
"At times, Khadijah will play the one and we'll move Ieasia to the two when we need more scoring from her, but it is Ieasia's job," Staley said.
As for the depth, it's not like USC can call down to the minors for another player or two. With many teams only rotating eight, the Gamecocks can actually rotate more - they just have to hope they'll have the bodies to keep doing it all year.
"I truly believe we can play all 10 players, if knock on wood, hopefully we don't sustain any injuries," Staley said. "I like the 10 we suit up at this particular time because they play hard. You can teach a whole lot from players that give the effort."
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