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November 4, 2012
The first test's been passed.
South Carolina's five newcomers - four freshmen and junior-college transfer Wilka Montout - all played extensive minutes in Sunday's 88-31 exhibition demolition of Anderson. All of them looked good, and all of them had some teaching moments.
There was no question of letting the freshmen work their way in or maybe have a "teaching year," before they were really turned loose. The Gamecocks only have 10 active players, with sophomore Tina Roy out indefinitely after ACL surgery in August, so not only would the newbies have to play, they would have to play a lot.
It was only one game, and that one didn't count in the standings.
But so far, so good.
"They're not always going to look as good as they looked today," coach Dawn Staley said. "We have to take these moments and enjoy them, and teach them what's going on, things they did well and things they didn't do well. I was glad they got this under their belt."
One of the freshmen, guard Tiffany Mitchell, started and scored 10 points, with three rebounds and two steals. Tiffany Davis had a rough outing, missing all six of her field-goal attempts and only recording one assist in the stat line. Asia Dozier, the local star from Spring Valley High School that had her own cheering section in the stands, scored 14 points to tie Aleighsa Welch for high-scorer honors, and also had six rebounds. Montout had nine points, seven boards and blocked three shots.
The other, Khadijah Sessions, had the best-looking line of the afternoon. Even while playing with a bulky knee brace, Sessions scored 11 points and had six steals and five assists. The point guard of the future, Sessions will back up senior Ieasia Walker this season, playing some minutes at the point while Walker perhaps moves to shooting guard, but is clearly the understudy.
Still, Sessions looked as speedy as she did at Myrtle Beach High School, and displayed the same fearlessness. She did have a freshman moment, where she picked off a pass and tried to out-run two defenders sandwiching her, only to see them deflect the ball off her and out-of-bounds. It was a glitch that Staley can handle, as well as she played in the other areas of the game.
"Just the fact that they came out and showed what they were capable of," said Welch, who had seven rebounds and two assists to go with her 14 points. "This was our first time on the floor, showing people what we have as a team. For us to come out and have such a great team effort, to get scoring from everybody in every way, shape or form, it was just a really good time for our team."
USC begins the season at 7 p.m. on Friday by hosting Elon.
LINEUP: Staley started Welch, Walker, Mitchell, Sancheon White and Ashley Bruner. She said that she would be going with her experience, and did so, although Mitchell is a freshman.
Staley said that Mitchell will probably stick in the lineup. The Gamecocks had their best success with a three-guard look last year and Mitchell can play the two or three.
"She's pretty athletic, she allows us to play a little quicker than we'd like," Staley said. "I think we lack that quickness on the perimeter. She can score the ball. We've just got to try to get her to play within her speed."
The Gamecocks, despite the small bench, have a lot of options with their lineup. They can go big, with the 6-foot-3 Montout or Elem Ibiam combining with Welch and Bruner in the post. They can also run five guards on the court at once, if playing a similar team built on quickness.
SWISH: It was a quirk of last season that even as successful as the Gamecocks were, they were horrid at the free-throw line. Despite finishing 25-10 and playing ball when only 15 other teams across the country were also still playing, USC finished the 2011-12 season as No. 336 in the country in free-throw percentage (58.8).
The total number of teams in the rankings? 336.
On Sunday, USC hit 14-of-19 from the stripe (73.7 percent). There was nowhere to go but up.
STYLIN': The Gamecocks adopted a new motto this year after the creator of last year's motto ("We all we got, we all we need"), La'Keisha Sutton, graduated. USC's new team motto is "Sacrifice."
The team has black warm-up shirts with the slogan on it, spelled in its phonetic pronunciation. The back of the shirts has the garnet palmetto tree and half-moon logo. The coaching and support staff each wore the T-shirts during the game.
HONORED: The Gamecocks also continue to wear a patch in the shape of a red heart, with the number two embedded in it, on their uniforms. The patch is to honor sophomore Shelbretta Ball, who is unable to play due to a medical reason. Ball is still on scholarship and will continue to be, and she is able to lightly practice.
Walker also inscribed Ball's name and number on her shoe.
GRAMMY?: The Gamecocks debuted their new entrance video, which is a rap song spliced with images of the team huddled around mid-court, taking turns singing the lyrics. The song was written by Roy, Dozier and Ball.
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