Dawn Staley broke in her troops with their first road game on Wednesday. She hopes it was enough.
The next one isn’t a simple bus ride within state borders.
No. 19 South Carolina lifted off for California on Thursday for a two-game road swing, beginning Saturday at San Diego State. It’s the only out-of-state road trip the Gamecocks will take in the non-conference season (discounting a game at Charlotte) and should be a good test for a Gamecocks team that has won all of its games, but has found issues to work on.
While the opponents aren’t lighting up the Top 25 — each on the trip has a first-year coach — Staley was glad to get the two-game slate. One reason is it’s a challenge.
Another is that with the Gamecocks’ recent success, nobody wanted to come play in Columbia.
“They actually were the last two games on the schedule, just because we couldn’t finish our schedule,” Staley said on Thursday. “Two new coaches, they have to build their schedule up and unfortunately, it ended up us having to go 3,000 miles, but they do have to return, so that’s a good thing.”
San Diego State and Southern Cal (Monday’s opponent) will play in Columbia next year. This year, they’ll try to knock off the Gamecocks and get a signature win.
The Aztecs have a scouting report on USC, since coach Stacie Terry spent the past two years at LSU. With scoring machine Cierra Warren on the block, SDSU plans to throw its post game at USC’s and see which is stronger.
The Gamecocks like to get the ball to their bigs first, and Aleighsa Welch and Elem Ibiam continue to have fine seasons. Freshman Alaina Coates is a big part of that, but had her first off game at Clemson, picking up two early fouls and missing two layups.
The Aztecs are 0-3 but have lost by two, four and three points, including a loss to Southern Cal. There’s also the hurdle of taking this team far from its comfort zone — only Ibiam, Welch and Tina Roy were on the last USC team to play in California, in a Sweet 16 matchup with Stanford in Fresno to end the 2011-12 season.
Welch has been warning her teammates about the effect of a long plane ride, but USC will have a full day to get used to it.
“The biggest thing I’ve tried to tell them is the time difference,” Welch said. “Whether you believe it or not, it’s going to make a difference, being used to playing on the East Coast. Some of us haven’t played with a one-hour time difference, let alone a three-hour time difference.”
USC also won’t be doing much sight-seeing, although there might be a small excursion. The main mission is to win.
“It’s a business trip, number one,” Staley said. “It’s not fun coming back 3,000 miles with losses.”
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