COLUMBIA –– Dawn Staley likes No. 10 South Carolina’s start to the year and, with a few tweaks, believes the Gamecocks can continue the run into Southeastern Conference play.
South Carolina has opened 9-0 for a second consecutive season and is ranked in its highest position since 2002. While Staley’s teams have long been built on pressure defense, the Gamecocks have also shown such an ability to score that they are one of the Southeastern Conference’s top offenses.
“I know that any of us can produce at any time,” leading scorer Tiffany Mitchell said. “So they should be aware of us at all times.”
Mitchell has averaged 15 points a game, heading up four Gamecocks in double-figure scoring. South Carolina leads the SEC and is fifth nationally with a .503 shooting percentage.
Staley’s glad to see the points. She just wishes it was accompanied by more in-your-face defense.
“We forced our program to be a defensive-minded team because we didn’t have players that could score the ball,” Staley said. “Now we’re constantly trying to teach our defensive philosophy. Slowly, but surely, we’re getting there.”
The Gamecocks figure to need the defense to kick in Wednesday night when they take on No. 14 North Carolina (8-2) at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. South Carolina ended the Tar Heels four-game series win streak two years ago with a 79-48 victory on the Grand Strand. This time, it’s North Carolina looking to pull the surprise over a team in the top 10 for the first time since 2002.
Mitchell said the Gamecocks haven’t thought much about the perfect start or the high ranking.
“It’s not something coach Staley’s going to let us get a big head about,” said Mitchell, a sophomore.
The high scoring – South Carolina has been held to fewer than 70 points just twice this season – has made up for the lagging defense.
“But at some point, we’re going to need to make stops,” Staley said. “That’s probably going to be Wednesday night, so we’ll see how far our defense has come.”
Staley knew the deficiencies were coming. Eight of the 12 players on the roster this season are sophomores or freshmen.
So it’s been a fun start for the Gamecocks, who follow the North Carolina contest with Winthrop, South Carolina State and Savannah State before opening conference play at Arkansas on Jan. 2.
Staley knows that’s when the true tests begin for her young club.
“I’m also a little bit on edge because I’m not sure we’re the team that can continue to hold teams to 40 points a game,” the coach said.