Staley likes her team’s chances in the SEC

dcloninger@thestate.comOctober 17, 2013 

— The rule was buried on the handout, after many of the new restrictions governing player contact and acceptable defense. It was no less important, and it may be the most important as every team will be affected by it.

For the first time in the women’s game, the 10-second clock backcourt rule will be implemented. The biggest difference in rules between the men’s and women’s game is off the table for 2013-14, meaning that every team will have to adjust its offensive and defensive sets, plus take a look at its guards and ball-handlers, as the season progresses.

The rule was installed “to reward good defense, add another strategy to our game, add excitement, increase pace of play,” according to the handout. All coaches and players had been warned that the rule was probably going to happen, so many were already working on it. Some teams will require slight adjustment; others, like South Carolina, may have to work a bit harder.

“We’re very conscious of it,” coach Dawn Staley said Thursday at SEC Media Days. “We look back at last year, we probably have taken more than 10 seconds to get the ball over half-court because of being pressed. They have to really be conscious of the shot clock.”

USC figures to be fine defensively with the new rule. The Gamecocks, SEC leaders in scoring defense the past two seasons, have gotten a lot of their points by running the half-court trap. That led to a lot of steals and a lot of easy buckets, crucial for a team that struggled to run a set offense, and the steals were a large part of Ieasia Walker’s SEC Defensive Player of the Year award.

Offensively, USC is making an adjustment. Walker is gone, leaving the point guard duties to Khadijah Sessions, Tiffany Davis or Tina Roy. One of those, plus the other guards, will have to remember every trap and press the opponent will throw at them and still try to get the ball up the floor.

They get to practice every day against a defense designed to steal the ball, and that will help. But now Staley will have to figure out ways to get the ball downcourt through traffic, and under 10 seconds, which is something that she never had to do in college.

Something that could help is that Staley thinks her team’s versatility is better than ever. If the point guard or other guards are struggling to get through a press, she can switch to some of her bigs.

“I think overall, our ball-handling is better as a team,” she said. “If teams press us, we’ll be able to put the ball on the floor from different positions. It doesn’t necessarily have to come up the floor from our point guards.”

Forward Aleighsa Welch most likely won’t be called on to bring the ball up. It’s something she never did in high school and has only slightly done at USC. She still understood the significance of the rule, since she can’t get the ball on the block if it’s tied up at half-court. She’ll have to play more of a long-range game, helping clear space for a ball-handler, and then get to her position.

“I think it will change a lot of team’s game plans as far as wanting to press, and I think it will cause more teams to press,” Welch said. “For us, we’re going to have to adjust to it. You can’t get caught getting relaxed. I think that’s the biggest thing, especially when you’re dealing with a team that does love to press.”

It’s a tricky issue to get one’s arms around, especially with stricter rules about screening, freedom of movement and contact. Who’s to say a team might ramp its press but have to abandon it due to an abundance of whistles?

Staley thinks the Gamecocks will be fine defensively, and is hoping that it brings an increase in USC’s offense. Having to get across half-court in 10 seconds doesn’t leave as much time for the point guard to look at Staley and get specific instructions, before rushing down and trying to make something happen. Now everything will be much quicker paced.

“We don’t have to run it for 10 seconds while the shot clock is going down to see options,” Staley said. “You can see options right off the bat. We’re going to try to attack and not wait, because I don’t think we have the type of players that can break their players down.”

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