South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was looking for a spirited effort Sunday against Anderson University, the Gamecocks’ lone exhibition contest. After the 88-31 victory, she came away pleased, especially with the performance of the newcomers.
After building a big early lead, Staley played the five first-year players together for the final eight minutes, and they continued to build the lead.
Three of the five scored in double figures, led by Spring Valley graduate Asia Dozier, who had 14 points to share high-scorer honors with sophomore forward Aleighsa Welch. Khadijah Sessions, from Myrtle Beach, added 11 points, six steals and five assists. Tiffany Mitchell, the only freshman that started, chipped in 10 points.
“The freshmen looked good,” Staley said. “They’re not always going to look as good as they did today, but we have to take these moments and enjoy them and continue to teach them what is going on — things they did well and things they didn’t do well. But overall, I was glad they were able to get this under their belt.”
While Dozier and Sessions were the most steady freshmen, the highlight for the group came when 6-foot-3 junior college transfer Wilka Montout stepped out and knocked down a 3-pointer as part of her nine-point, seven-rebound, three-block effort. She also added an athletic, reverse layup.
Staley is looking to replace four starters from last season’s Sweet 16 team. Mitchell was the only freshman starter with Welch, Ashley Bruner and Sancheon White joining lone returning starter Ieasia Walker. Nobody played more than 25 minutes or fewer than 16 minutes as Staley rotated her 10 players throughout.
White, a senior in her second-year in the program, added 13 points, and sophomore Elem Ibiam came off the bench to lead the team with 12 rebounds to go along with six points.
Welch was impressed by what she saw out of the newcomers.
“For us to come out and have such a great team effort, getting scoring from everybody in every way shape and form, it was a really good sign for our team,” Welch said.
The starting group set the tone by scoring the first nine points of the game and holding the Trojans scoreless for long stretches in both halves.
Welch scored 12 of her 14 points in the first half as the Gamecocks bolted to a 30-point halftime lead.
“I was very pleased with our effort,” Staley said. “I thought we would come out and play energized because the monotonous style of playing in practice the last couple of weeks is really wearing on us. I though we might play a little undisciplined at times, but I thought we stuck with the game plan. There were very few times we got outside of ourselves.”
Anderson was playing its third exhibition in seven days. The Trojans lost by 35 at Wake Forest last Monday before rallying from a 16-point, first-half deficit to defeat Clemson by seven points Friday night.
But the Trojans never found an answer against the Gamecocks’ pressure defense. South Carolina forced 21 turnovers and 16 steals and nearly had as many offensive rebounds (19) as Anderson had total rebounds (21). Rebounding is a big concern for Staley going into the season opener Friday at home against Elon.
“I’m pleased with the rebounding,” Staley said. “That is something that we thought we would lack, not having some of the players that played last year to mix it up and give us that part of the game. But we’ve been conscious of it. I’m glad it paid off in a game situation.”
USC guard Tina Roy did not suit up for the game. The 5-11 sophomore had ACL surgery on Aug. 15, and there is no timetable on her return.