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November 20, 2012

WBB: Staley confronts depth issue right away

Dawn Staley had a thin bench before the season, but was fine with it. As she pointed out, most teams around the country only rotate eight players, and South Carolina was rotating 10. She had the perfect system - all 10 would play, and there was nobody that would pout for not getting on the floor, and opponents would have a difficult time scouting the Gamecocks because all of Staley's 10 could hurt in their own way.

Sure, there would be questions of depth all season, but Staley figured that if it never got below that eight-woman rotation, USC could handle it. It's a long season, filled with bumps and bruises, but if USC could play the majority of at least 30 games without serious injury, no problem.

The Gamecocks almost got through three games.

Just minutes after Staley spoke following a 64-43 win over Clemson on Sunday, USC confirmed that freshman Tiffany Davis had a torn knee ligament and would have to have season-ending surgery. Staley had been optimistic, labeling the knee a sprain, but also pointed out on Sunday that Davis was at that moment meeting with Jeff Guy, USC's athletic doctor.

Guy had bad news for Davis, and for the Gamecocks. Her freshman season was over after she played in three games but hit the floor hard against Savannah State. With sophomore Tina Roy also having an ACL repaired in August, USC has two players recovering from knee problems, and nine players left to finish the season.

It's a blow to the Gamecocks, to be sure, although Davis was part of the second rotation. Staley had to immediately implement a plan that she was saving for the later part of the year.

"That is going to hurt us, to a degree," Staley said in an e-mail before the team left for a Thanksgiving tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands. "From a practice standpoint, we don't have two units to put out there. But, it allows us to do what we were planning this season, which is to play Ashley Bruner on the perimeter."

Bruner, the starting forward, has been masterful on the block through four games, leading the team with 14 points per game. With Davis out, it affects the team's guard depth, so Staley was tinkering with the idea of moving Bruner around the arc, able to slash to the basket but also able to help the team's passing game.

The plan has been jump-started. USC can still handle the inside game with forwards Aleighsa Welch, Elem Ibiam and Wilka Montout (who can also shoot from outside) and still have a fluid offensive attack.

"She's able to do it, knows all the plays," Staley said. "It is an opportunity for us to go bigger than we normally go."

The rotation is down to nine, and all nine will play. If Roy can return at some point - she has been lightly practicing, but has not dressed for a game - that could help. Staley has said that if Roy is cleared, she would have no hesitation to play her, but much of that will depend on the calendar day of when she is cleared.

Until then, the Gamecocks will practice as well as they can. They have a five-man practice squad of men that plays against them, and that helps, but USC can't run in a rested five to spell the other five.

"Everybody has to step up," Welch said. "I think with any injury, anytime somebody's out, it just means that everybody has to step up their game a notch. We're going to need everybody to do a little bit more to get where we need to be."

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