COLUMBIA, S.C. — Bit by bit, USC women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley is figuring out what she has with these Gamecocks.
“I do like our team,” she said. “They have great personalities. What I really like that jumps off the page is the fact we’re rebounding.”
The 7-0 Gamecocks are second in the nation with a plus-20.6 rebounding margin.
“We’re outrebounding our opponents by a considerable amount,” Staley said. “That means we’re getting the hustle plays.”
In winning the Paradise Jam over Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Staley also discerned the team’s toughness and adaptability.
“Just being a young team, you always have that question whether they can play three games in a row,” Staley said. “Not just from a physical standpoint, but from a mental standpoint and a preparation standpoint. Just the various styles of play.
“I thought they handled all of that extremely well.”
Perhaps no player epitomized that more than sophomore Aleighsa Welch, who earned the tournament’s MVP honors. Welch had a pair of double-doubles and averaged 13 points and 10.7 rebounds for the three games.
Welch also showed the ability to carry the team when needed. Against Hampton when points were hard to come by, she scored 10 of the team’s first 13 points of the second half.
“I just had a really good tournament,” Welch said. “I was hitting my shots and I was able to rebound the ball effectively. Everything just kind of came along as the tournament came along.”
Perhaps no win meant more to the Gamecocks this season than the 55-46 win against DePaul in the tourney championship. It was the team’s third game in three days and, as Staley mentioned, it taught the team a lot about itself.
“After playing three games in a row, it took a toll on our bodies,” senior guard Ieasia Walker said. “Being able to focus each day on a different team and develop a new game plan … we did have a lot of mishaps in that (DePaul) game, but I think we stayed together, which shows we can dig deep within ourselves to finish a game.”
For their performance over the weekend, the Gamecocks were rewarded with a breakthrough in the national rankings, debuting at No. 24 in the USA Today coaches poll.
“Everybody is excited about this season and trying to beat expectations,” Walker said. “Being 7-0 is a good accomplishment, but we’re not complacent with it.
“You can’t get carried away with beating these teams because SEC season’s going to be tough,” Walker added. “Then we do have (No. 1) Stanford coming up on the list as well. We’ve still got to prepare ourselves for better competition out there.”