How South Carolina can rebuild itself and become an even bigger juggernaut after roster overhaul

CLEVELAND — At halftime of the season opener in Paris, Bree Hall Realizing South Carolina is good. For example, OK good.Camila Cardoso and Ashlyn Watkins Have the same feeling.

Over the years, cockfighting It’s been good. In fact, they’re great.A modern NCAA powerhouse following in the footsteps of Southern California, Tennessee State and Tennessee State connecticutThey’ve been to the past three Final Fours, reached the Final Six in nine games, and won the 2022 national championship under Dawn Staley, Winner of four of the past five Naismith Coach of the Year Awards.

But a trip to the Final Four for this undefeated team wasn’t inevitable. This is the first time since 2018 that South Carolina enters preseason without ‘fresh food,’ Staley said the class, which is 129-9 over four years, has had “no hiccups” during their tenure.She celebrated five of the seven outgoing seniors being drafted to the WNBA and then transitioned into what she called a new era. Make her consider retiring early.

“As a coach, you get used to life getting a little easier on and off the court,” Staley said Thursday before the semifinals against North Carolina State (7 p.m. ET, ESPN). This set is different. “

She said when players arrived on their first day, most were out of shape. Sports performance coach Molly Binetti has the difficult task of working with “probably the worst-sized, really not competitive team that she’s ever experienced.” “, Staley said. Young players don’t understand the importance of program cornerstones, from discipline to eating breakfast to basic communication.

“Young people are always putting their phones on ‘Do Not Disturb,'” junior forward Saniya Feigin said. “It’s like, no one’s bothering you, why would you put your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’? People are late. Yes, the alarm clock is ringing.” Doesn’t exist [on]”.

South Carolina loses all five of its starters in Dawn Staley and a handful of starters from last year. That didn’t stop the Gamecocks from finishing with a perfect record this season.  (Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

South Carolina loses all five of its starters in Dawn Staley and a handful of starters from last year. That didn’t stop the Gamecocks from finishing with a perfect record this season. (Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

Staley wasn’t ready for the struggles of a young team and didn’t have the proven veterans to take control. Those outside the program don’t see this, but they know any team inserting five new starters is going to have growing pains. It’s hard to see the road to Cleveland in September.

no longer.

“I think this is the best team that South Carolina has. There’s no question in my mind,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said, “because they can shoot the ball.”

South Carolina immediately issued a statement. South Carolina, ranked No. 6 in the AP poll, led then-10th-ranked Notre Dame three times, 24-8, in the second quarter of the season opener, but failed to win 100-71. During the game, the score dropped by three digits. . The team hit five 3-pointers, exceeding its 2022-23 average, showing they know what flaws are holding them back from a championship. Te-Hina Paopao, a senior from Oregon State, went 2-for-4 from beyond the arc. She shot 46.3 percent from the field this season, better than any of South Carolina’s top four players. Better anyone.

Cardozo, who announced she will enter the WNBA draft, said she knew after the win in Paris that the Gamecocks had it all figured out. The 6-foot-7 center transferred from Syracuse, where she was the ACC Freshman of the Year, and spent two years playing behind Boston, the 2023 WNBA Rookie of the Year.

“Everybody thought we were out. Everybody thought we were going to lose,” Cardozo said after winning the Albany 1 Regional and returning to the Final Four. “We put on a show there. This team, We’ve been working hard since the summer to build chemistry and perform well on the court [and] Outside the court. “

Since defending champion LSU lost its first game, South Carolina moved to No. 1 in the polls and has never relinquished that spot. The Gamecocks’ first big test was a single-digit win over North Carolina. Two weeks later, they faced Utah in a neutral-site game at the Mohegan Sun Casino Hall of Fame Showcase in Connecticut. Alyssa PilleyAnother WNBA forward prospect scored 37 points and nearly led the Utes to victory.

“After we won that game, we realized, yeah, I think we can play anybody,” Hall said.

They win in different ways, when shots are made and when they are not. They narrowly defeated LSU in the regular season, defeated traditional power UConn, and survived a late scare from Tennessee in the SEC Tournament.It was a three-pointer that preserved the unbeaten record for the season. Unexpectedly, it fell from Cardoso’s hands. Cardoso had once Never done that in her four-year career.

“The way we think, we’ve always known,” Raven Johnson “We knew this summer we were going to be better than last year’s team. We know what we have to bring. We know what last year’s team was missing. We said we got those, we got the weapons. “

On the court, they have always maintained a good balance and with such a strong bench, Staley often goes nine plays deep in the first quarter of crucial games. Seven players are averaging at least eight points per game and only three have scored in double figures, with Cardoso leading all players with 14.1.

“I didn’t see a lot of weakness in anything they did from any standpoint,” OSU head coach Scott Rucker said after the Elite Eight loss.

Off the court, they’re focused on developing chemistry as a new team. Feigin said the freshness of the group helped build stronger bonds than last year.

Staley learned to step back, pivot, and do things differently than he did before.

“The transition was hard, but once I started looking at it as a challenge, I wasn’t going to let them get ahead of me, our staff, our projects or what we had built,” Staley said.

As the final game of the season approaches, looking back, it’s clear the outcome was the same.

“This is a new normal,” Staley said, “but the standard is still the standard, and I’m really grateful.”

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